Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 3 June 2012
Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 30-40; Psalm 33:4-6, 9, 18-20, 22; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20
Matthew’s Gospel closes with the ‘Great Commission’ where Jesus commands the Church to share in the ongoing mission of God in the world. In the opening chapter of the Gospel, Jesus’ birth was announced as ‘Emmanuel, God with us’. Now Jesus promises his continuing presence, a promise actualised in the giving of the Holy Spirit. God has not withdrawn and left God’s work to the Church, but is working in and through her to fulfil the promise made to Abraham to bless all the nations of the world. There is great hope and encouragement here, because we are not trying to do God’s work for God. God continues to be present and active in our midst. Everyone is to be invited into this life with God, begun in baptism and lived out in faithful obedience to Christ’s teachings in a community of learners (which is what ‘disciple’ means).
In Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people of God to live in obedience to God’s commandments which he sets within the framework of the covenant relationship. God chose them and rescued them from slavery in Egypt so that they can live in freedom as God’s people. In return God requires their loyal commitment. In Romans 8, however, Paul does not describe the Christian life in terms of obeying commandments but as being led by the Spirit. The Spirit is God at work in the world and in the human soul. Our spirit is the heart of our being which recognises and communes with God. Paul’s relational language is intimate, pointing to a reality that is experienced at the deepest level. But Jesus’ command to ‘teach them to obey all I have commanded you’ reminds us that we must not too readily set being led by the Spirit and living in obedience to God’s commands against each other. Obedience to God’s commands in the Old Testament was always set within the context of a relationship of love, and a life in step with the Spirit will produce the fruits of the Spirit, which fulfil the law of love.
That this is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity immediately focuses my attention on the Trinitarian baptismal formula in the Gospel. The doctrine of the Trinity is not in the first place a philosophical conundrum or a mathematical challenge, but the recognition that the same creator God who is experienced in the story of the people of God in the Old Testament is present in Jesus of Nazareth and in the Holy Spirit who animates the Church. The God who made the world, who came close at Mount Sinai to communicate with the people, who rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and performed wonders, who gave them commandments to live by and invited them into fullness of life, was incarnate in Jesus Christ who dwelled among God’s people, taught them how to live, performed wonders, achieved salvation by his death on the cross, and came close to them in a new way after his resurrection. This same saving, communicating, wonder-working, guiding God dwells within the believer and the community of faith as the Holy Spirit, closer even than Jesus was with his disciples. Those who are made disciples and initiated into the people of God become part of this story. This affects the way we read Scripture, because the stories aren’t just back then, but they are true for us too. Israel’s story can be read as our own story; the Jesus we meet in the Gospels can be met today. Also, the Church’s role of evangelisation and discipleship, the Great Commission, can be understood in terms of inviting people and equipping them to participate in this ongoing story.