By FATHER DONALD DILGER
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Response: Ps. 33:4-5, 6, 9, 18-19, 20, 22; Second Reading: Rom. 8:14-17; Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
Deuteronomy is the fifth of the great scrolls forming the Torah (Pentateuch). The word Deuteronomy means second law. The book or scroll gets its name from Deut. 17:18 in the Greek version, here in English, “When a king takes over his kingdom, he shall write for himself a second law (Dueteronumium), (make a copy of), into a book by the Levitical priests.” Most people in ancient times could not read or write. Levites who were trained scribes (writers) did the writing of Deuteronomy at the command of the king. They are considered authors or editors of the book. The original was in the Hebrew language. In the Old Testament, the name of a book or scroll was taken from its first words. So the original name translated into English, “These (are) the words.” In fuller form, “These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel . . . .” Though the book originated in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., it is attributed to Moses who lived in the 13th century B.C. The influence of Moses should not be excluded, but he did not compose the book as we now have it.
Much of the book is in the form of three addresses of Moses to the Israelites. He reviews their history up to his last will and testament in chapter 31. For those who insist that Moses authored the book as is, they need to explain how he included the story of his death and burial in chapter 34. The usual solution: he was a prophet so he could foresee it and wrote it down. This ignores the fact that a prophet is not a fortune teller who predicts the future, but a spokesperson for God bringing God’s word to his time and ours. A modern explanation — Moses had a prearranged funeral, but that does not explain how he would have known about his death at age 120. Today’s first reading is part of Moses’ first address to his people. He reminds them of the Lord God’s great deeds on their behalf, so great that nothing greater ever happened before. They heard the voice of God speaking from the fire at Mt. Sinai. They were protected from disaster by “the Lord’s strong hand and outstretched arm.” Their expected response? A heartfelt conviction “that the Lord God is in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other (god).” Such must be their faith, but faith is not the end. “You must keep his statutes and commandments. If you do, you and your descendants will prosper with a long life the Lord God will give you, etc.” A relationship of this reading to the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity would be hard to establish.
Psalm 33 carries on from the first reading the theme of God choosing and blessing his people. It is expressed especially in the people’s response, “Blessed the people whom the Lord has chosen to be his own.” The verses chosen for today’s liturgy establish the type of this psalm, a song of praise and petition. These characteristics of the psalm are a standard form of prayer, similar to the Our Father Jesus taught us. First we praise the expected benefactor. After sufficient praise we add the petitions. (Teenagers could learn from this how to form a petition to use the family car.)
The second reading, an excerpt of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, does relate to the gospel of the day. Just as the gospel includes a reference to the three Divine Persons, so does this second reading. Paul speaks of the Father, the Christ, the Spirit of God. There is also a connection with the first reading and the Response Psalm. The theme of God choosing people as his own runs throughout. Paul notes that through the work of the Holy Spirit we have been adopted into God’s family. We have become so intimate a part of the Divine Family, that with Christ we are joint heirs of the inheritance and can call God Abba just like Jesus did.
In this year of the Gospel of Mark, Year B, the liturgy for today’s Solemnity makes a detour. The gospel selection is from the Gospel of Matthew, a section known as The Great Commission. The setting is in Galilee in northern Palestine. Galilee was the home province of Jesus. After the events of Passover in Jerusalem — Jesus’ arrest, torture, death, burial, resurrection — he appeared to a group of women disciples, commanding them, “Go, tell my brethren to go to Galilee. There they will see me.” Off to Galilee go the eleven remaining apostles. There Jesus appears to them on a mountain. Mountains are a standard part of divine appearances. We can assume that Jesus appeared to them in glory, because “they worshipped him.” That’s the good news. Now the bad news. “Some doubted.” After all his work with them, and the fact that they had experienced his death by crucifixion, now standing before them in glory, and they still doubted? Doubt is an intrusively human accompaniment of faith. One thinks of doubting Thomas in John’s gospel, and the doubting disciples when Jesus appeared to them in Luke 24. See also Matthew 14:31; 21;21; Mark 11:22-23; James 1:6; Jude 1:22.
Despite the flawed doubters Jesus chose and trained, he commissions them to carry on his work. Matthew adopts the imagery of the son of man vision in Daniel 7:13-14, as he depicts Jesus saying, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Thus his credentials to commission them, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . .” In the body of the gospel Jesus had restricted his disciples to work only among the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matt 10:5f.
Jesus lifts that restriction and extends their mission to all nations (the Gentiles). The initiation rite for entering a new way of life by a ritual washing was not uncommon in ancient times. By Jesus’ command, Christianity adopted and sanctified this ritual, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Here we see the reason for selecting this part of Matthew’s gospel for today’s Solemnity — the mention of the Holy Trinity. Mere entrance into this new way of life is not enough. Therefore, “teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” Jesus’ disciples will never be alone in their mission. “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” when the kingdom of God will be realized in its fullness.