Holy Spirit

ACTA  

LECTIONARY COMMENTARY

The Most Holy Trinity Year C

Year of Luke

Download >>> Trinity Sunday Yr C

 

READINGS

 

A reading from the book of Proverbs                        8:22-31

 

Responsorial Psalm                                 Psalm 8:4-9. R/.v.2

 

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans       5:1-5

                                                                         

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John  16:12-15

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In the end is the beginning.  It is, of course, not playing the game to look at the last chapter of the book to find out whodunit before you have gone through even the first chapter.  But this is what we must do if we are to understand the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The first question is not Who made the world?  The first question must be Why did God make the world?  

 

   To what purpose did God make heaven and earth?  Of course, we realise there is a first chapter in our Bible.  God did create the heavens and the earth. But to what purpose?  Our whole Bible from beginning to end is concerned with who God is, to what purpose does he reveal who God is to humanity, and what does God do to reveal that God is God?  The “why” question is at the root of all other questions. And the Bible is dazzlingly clear on the answer to this question. God created all that there is because what God wishes to create is the reign of shalom.

 

   That is why is why the human response to God is always thanks and praise.  The consummation, the end, the final destiny of creation is peace. God so loved the world, says St John’s Gospel.  God so loved the possibility of creating a cosmos of peace.  The big issue in the Bible is not sin. Our destiny is not, and never was, determined by Adam and Eve.  Our future belongs to God and that is why we are where we are, here on earth where God’s will must be done as it is in heaven.  What the multitude of the heavenly host sang is a song for our time and for all time:

 

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκία.

 

Here is a very word-for-word translation:

 

Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace

among people favoured.

Luke 2:14

The meaning is that the heavenly choir sings glory to God because those who dwell on earth, the whole people (see Luke 2:10) are favoured with God’s peace.  The angels in heaven are singing a Gloria to God because God is, in the birth of the child, creating peace among the earth’s people.

  If we can agree that the purpose of creation is peace, then we can make sense of the creation stories in the Book of Genesis, the salvation and redemption initiatives that run through all the books of Scripture, and the consummation or completion of creation.  We may begin with a simple understanding of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as each is emphasised in divine work, of each that moves toward God’s final consummation. It is the end—shalom, peace—that determines everything that prepares humanity for its destiny.

 

    A MYSTERY

   

We often speak of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity and

that suggests that the Trinity cannot be understood.  We recognise that God is revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It does not make sense, however, to believe that God reveals something we can’t understand.  When St Paul uses the Greek word mustērion, mystery (twenty-one times in the writings attributed to Paul), he does not mean something we can’t grasp.  There is little point in revealing something we cannot understand. God’s Spirit gives us the enlightenment to know what we need to know.  Consider the last and very long sentence of his letter to house-churches in Rome:

 

    Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my     gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the     revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but     has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has     been made known to all nations, according to the command of     the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the     only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!     Amen.                               Roman 16:25-27

 

Or consider Paul’s words to those confused Corinthians:

 

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

So we need to recall “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit”.  We need to reflect on what we know of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We must know what identifies the work among us of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

   FATHER

 

To call God “Father” is a commonplace of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  Our very being is fathered into the world by our Father:

 

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;

we are the clay, and you are our potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,

and remember not iniquity forever…

Behold, please look, we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:8-9

Every moment of our existence is in his hands:

 

It is your providence , O Father,

that steers the boat …

so that even if he lacks skill,

he may put to sea.

Wisdom 14:3-4

 

The Lord, “Father and Ruler of my life” (Sirach 23:1), directs every step with gentleness and steadfast love for “he is a merciful God and Father” (3 Maccabees 5:7-9, an apocryphal work).  All else may fail but God’s fatherly love endures:

 

You are my Father,

           my God, and the Rock of my salvation.   

                                    Psalm 89:6

 

Humanity is wrapped in the swaddling cloths of God’s love from cradle to the grave and beyond:

 

                   He is our Father forever.                   Tobit 13:4

 

We must not imagine that the “our” in Our Father   is exclusive, as if anyone could be conceived outside the Father’s love.  As 3 Maccabees 2:21 puts it, “he is the first Father of all”. To be sure, all those little churches that make up the universal Church are in the heart of God:

 

    To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the     Lord Jesus Christ.                              2 Thessalonians 1:1

 

But the churches and Church being in God our Father does not exhaust the space in the Father’s heart.  As Paul tells us in Romans 4:16,

 

He is the Father of us all.

 

   This emphasis on God the Father of us all is not sexist or patriarchal.  Our ancient mothers and fathers searched for words to convey what they knew of God, what they experienced of divine Presence, and what they sought to express in their prayers.  In their world the Father was responsible for the good care of all. The Father was protector, sustainer, provider, champion, deliverer, and everything else that kept his family safe in a dangerous world.  The weight of every responsibility lay on the father’s shoulders. It is this image of the father as the protector in every circumstance that caused our mothers and fathers in faith to adopt this word for their God who at every turn had to carry the burden of every child born into this world of pain and strife.    God is named Our Father because he is obliged to look to humanity’s welfare every minute of every day and whose nights are forever sleepless in the worry of wayward. God is Father for when no one else is awake - this Father keeps watch.

 

   Son

 

Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are full of sons. Often it is the second son that is called to a particular vocation of care for the people of Israel.  But the Son of Mary is of an entirely different order. Born into the human family, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, yet “he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  He is the one who emerges from the inspiration of the prophets. Saint Matthew, quoting Isaiah 7:14, points to his conception and birth to indicate the uniqueness of Mary’s son:

 

Behold, the virgin shall conceive

And bear a son,

And they shall call his name

Immanuel

(which means God-with-us).

Matthew 1:22

 

Micah points to an image of God since the days of Ezekiel, that of God as the Shepherd of God’s people.  Now that shepherding is given into the hands of Mary’s Son:

 

And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.

Matthew 2:6

 

This “ruler”, this King of the Jews, will be the shepherd, not the tyrant.  However, he will die as a King nailed to a cross.

 

   Luke is even more extravagant in his identity of Mary’s Son and insists that the angel Gabriel is the one who names the child:

 

    And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you     have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in     your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.     He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.     And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father     ,     he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his     kingdom there will be no end.

Luke 1:30-33

 

Even more than that, Gabriel tells Mary:

 

    The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most     High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be     called holy— the Son of God.                         Luke 1:35

 

After Mary, the first on this earth to recognise this Son is a woman, the elderly yet pregnant Elizabeth.  Not only filled with child, she is, like Mary, filled with the Holy Spirit, and shouting out in a loud voice of wonder and joy, she is the first to proclaim the gospel of God:

 

    And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she     exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and     blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me     that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold,     when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my     womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there     would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the     Lord.                                             Luke 1:42-45

 

How is with me that the mother of my Lord should come to me - the very words used by David as the Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle of God’s Presence, was coming to Jerusalem:


    How is it with me that the Arc of the Lord should come to me?                                                                                                       2 Samuel 6:9

 

The very Presence that came in the Arc is now come to Elizabeth’s home in the womb of her dear young cousin.  That is who this Son is. Indeed, in our first Gospel to be written, the Gospel according to Mark, we have a Father declaring to the world the identity of the one he acknowledges as his Son:

 

    And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with     you I am well pleased.                                          Mark 1:11

 

The Son himself declares his purpose and true intent:

 

    Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee,         proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is     fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe     in the gospel.                                                 Mark 1:14-15

 

John summed up this Word become flesh in one of his many identity statements, a sentence of the man himself:

 

                   All that the Father has is mine.         John 16:15

 

The rest is silence.

 

HOLY SPIRIT

 

In the beginning the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of chaos, waiting for the creative word:

 

                  And God said, let her be light.         Genesis 1:3

 

In the biblical perspective, the Spirit is divine activity in creation.  The spirit of God went forth from God to empower the heroes of old:

 

       The spirit of God took possession of Gideon.

                                    Judges 6:34

 

Even such a rapscallion as Samson is empowered:

 

    The spirit of the Lord began to stir in him in Mahhanehdan.

Judges 13:25

 

In preparation for kingship the prophet Samuel tells him that,

 

    Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, … and you will     be turned into another man.                            1 Samuel 10:6

 

The prophet Micah explains his vocation to chastise the descendants of Jacob, that is, whole people of Israel:

 

But as for me, I am filled with power,

with the Spirit of the Lord,

and with justice and might,

to declare to Jacob his transgression

and to Israel his sin.

Micah 3:8

 

Isaiah looks to the day that a once and future King will come to right the world’s wrongs:  

 

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord

And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-3

 

Indeed, God’s holy spirit was the dynamic power within the history of Israel, the sign of divine presence and the voice that called Israel to the future.  Joel looked to the dawning of a new day:

 

And it shall come to pass afterward,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

Even on the male and female servants

in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

Joel 2:28-29

 

St Peter found Joel’s prophesy a useful quotation to turn to for his homily on Pentecost Day (Acts 2:17).

   With the coming of the Son, the Spirit is poured out on all flesh.  A paragraph from the Letter to the Ephesians provides a rich summary of the New Testament understanding of the Spirit.  We are told that Jesus the Messiah came in order that we human beings who were afar off from God, are brought near to God:

 

    For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has     broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by     abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances,     that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two,     so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body     through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and     preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who     were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to     the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but     you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the     household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and     prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom     the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy     temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into     a dwelling place for God by the Spirit

Ephesians 2:14-22

 

Read these words carefully and in prayer and you will know that we have a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, our God forever

and a day.

A reading from the book of Proverbs                        8:22-31

 

The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,

the first of his acts of old.

Ages ago I was set up,

at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth,

when there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains had been shaped,

before the hills, I was brought forth,

before he had made the earth with its fields,

or the first of the dust of the world.

When he established the heavens, I was there;

when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

when he made firm the skies above,

when he established the fountains of the deep,

when he assigned to the sea its limit,

so that the waters might not transgress his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

then I was beside him, like a master workman,

and I was daily his delight,

rejoicing before him always,

rejoicing in his inhabited world

and delighting in the children of man.

The word of the Lord.

 

The Book of Proverbs belongs to the section of the Hebrew Bible that is entitled Writings.  In this section we find Job, Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and other writings that identified as Wisdom Literature.  These writings are part of an intellectual tradition that set out to teach wisdom that would guide its adherents to order in the home, in the street, and in the political arena.  Indeed, every area of life must be governed intelligently by the precepts of wisdom. The moral concerns of wisdom, if adopted and practised, promote well-being and happiness.

 

   Those people addressed in the Book of Proverbs are often addressed as “My child”, an indication that the book might have been directed at the young as they set out to enter the adult world of responsibility.

 

   Chapter 8 is the most difficult chapter in the book.  It seems to be an attempt to present wisdom as an attractive young woman standing at the gates of the city and addressing young men as they pass and urging them to listen to her “words of righteousness” that are more valuable than silver or even the purest gold.  No jewel can compare with the jewel of wisdom.

 

    The first reading today concerns Wisdom’s rôle in creation.  Wisdom is presented as created at the moment of creation and is therefore the oldest “being” to emerge from God’s creative hand.  The Lectionary invites us to see Wisdom as a divine architect and one who intercedes for humanity and provides advice to all who would listen to her.  Wisdom belongs to the realm of God and is, therefore, a timeless and all-seeing guide to life on earth.

  We are invited to see Wisdom as the Spirit of God and the Holy Spirit is often presented as the Spirit of Wisdom.  This is especially true of the Spirit promised to his disciples by Jesus in the Gospel of John.

Responsorial Psalm                                 Psalm 8:4-9. R/.v.2

 

              R/. O Lord, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth.

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

         and the son of man that you care for him.     R/.

 

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings

and crowned him with glory and honour.

You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;

              you have put all things under his feet.      R/.

 

All sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,

whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

 

              R/. O Lord, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth.

 

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise.  It celebrates the wonder of God’s majesty and demands that human beings must recognise and praise the wonders of God that witness to the majesty of God.  Humanity itself is given is little less than “the heavenly beings” or any god that may be imagined to exist. Being crowned with glory and honour, men and women must witness to God and proclaim God’s wonder to the world.

 

A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Romans      5:1-5

 

    Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace     with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we     have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we     stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that,     but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering     produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and     character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame,     because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the     Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The word of the Lord.

 

Why do bad things happen to good people?  And why should we agree with St Paul that suffering for those who have been baptised into Christ is an identity mark of which we should be proud?  People, says Paul, who have become Christian, that is, who through our Lord Jesus Christ, have been put to rights with God, can look forward in hope to “the glory of God”.  That is something Jesus people might boast about. But the other thing they boast about is suffering? Boasting about suffering?

   We are blessed that the man who lost a goat stumbled across what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.  For the monastic people who lived in the desert around the northern end of the Dead Sea, confronted the very issue that Paul writes about in today’s extract from his Roman letter.

   Four copies of the Community Rule written about one hundred years before the time of Jesus were found at Qumran.  This document confronts the question of the suffering of people who are faithful to God and yet endure much suffering.  First, an insight into the standards expected of those who wished to be part of the community:

 

    In the Community council (there shall be) twelve men and three     priests, perfect in everything that has been revealed about all the     Law to implement truth, justice, judgment, compassionate love     and unassuming behaviour of each person for his fellow, to     preserve faithfulness on the earth with a firm purpose and     repentant spirit in order to atone for sin, doing justice and     undergoing trials … to atone for the earth in order to walk     with everyone in the measure of truth …                                                                                                          1QS 8:1 - 6

 

The point is that these holy people endured suffering in order to atone for the evils of the world.  They offered up their sufferings to God in order to make reparation for the sins of others.

   But that is not what Paul teaches.  To be sure, he agrees that suffering is an identity marker of those who are Jesus people.  But Paul does not see enduring suffering as an act of atonement. Nor does he imagine that suffering is a good testing ground for faithful people.  

   What Paul insists upon is that Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).  He stressed that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  Christians are righted in the sight of God because we have now been justified by his blood (Romans 5:9).  If we were at odds with the God who made us then we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Romans 5:10).  

   Salvation has been won for the world through the life, suffering, and death of “our Lord Jesus Christ” and his ordeal resulted in glorious resurrection. Our suffering is not atonement for the world’s sins.  Jesus has done that and the Jesus people are conformed to the image of Christ and therefore live in expectation to come to the same destiny as that of the Lord:

 

    For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the     death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall     we be saved by his life.                         Romans 5:10

 

In other words, we rejoice that we are deemed worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus because that makes us like him and assures us of a resurrection like his.  Suffering identifies Jesus people as people of hope, for to be in Christ is to be with him and in him all the way to resurrection.

 

   It is always worthwhile to explore what was going on in Jewish religious circles at the time of Jesus and to compare and contrast with the teaching of Jesus, of Paul, and the other writers in our New Testament.  By doing so, we likely to be sure to come face to face with the uniqueness of the man from Nazareth and therefore to rejoice that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 16:12-15

 

    I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them     now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all     the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but     whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the     things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take     what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is     mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare     it to you.

The Gospel of the Lord.

 

The Holy Spirit is the energy of God given to the disciples.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth for God is truth and the best guide to all truth.  Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, comes again to his disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    While the disciples endure the pain of the death of Jesus they are unable to understand and, as we know, most went back to Galilee and their fishing boats.  It will be up to the strength of the Spirit to rehabilitate these disillusioned Galileans.

   Just as Jesus glorified God, that is, manifested to the world the depth of God’s love for the world (John 3:16), so the Spirit will empower the Jesus disciples to continue to glorify the Father and the Son to the world.  The Holy Spirit will see to it that through the disciples the truth of God will not perish from the face of the earth. The mission of Jesus is safe in the hands of the Spirit and through the energy of the Spirit that mission is safe in the hands of his disciples.  That, at least, is the plan.

 

Joseph O’Hanlon  

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