First Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31; Response: Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5; Gospel: John 16:12-15
The first reading is an excerpt from the Book of Proverbs. This book is a collection of wise sayings, maxims, even collections of collections of proverbs. Much of the book is attributed to King Solomon who died in 922. A tradition found in 1 Kings 5:12 notes that Solomon was the author of three thousand proverbs. That’s one of those round numbers in the Bible that are not necessarily accurate. As is well known, Solomon was known for wise decisions, as long as they had nothing to do with choosing his seven hundred wives and 300 concubines — another instance of rounded off biblical numbers. Also in the Book of Proverbs there are sayings attributed to sages who were not Israelites. This is wisdom literature, not all of it of religious origin, but just common sense stuff. Think Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac.”
In the context from which our first reading is taken, wisdom becomes personified as an elegant woman singing praises of herself, of her teachings, of herself as guide of rulers. From this larger context, the words selected for our reading speak of her, (that is, personified wisdom) as being created, herself being the blueprint of creation, present and playing in the presence of the creator, enjoying being with human beings. The Hebrew word translated as “created” was not acceptable to St. Jerome (died 420), when he translated the Book of Wisdom into Latin in late fourth or early fifth century. The reason: Jerome was one of the Church’s heroes fighting Arianism, which claimed among other false teachings, that the Son of God, the Word of God, wisdom personified, was God’s first creation. Since Christian interpretation of wisdom personified in this section of Proverbs was applied to Jesus, Son of God, another translation of the Hebrew verb had to be used. Therefore Jerome’s Latin translation, quite correctly, (in English), “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways.” The liturgy of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity uses the ancient Christian interpretation, applying this first reading to the eternal Son of God. The delightful part comes at the end, when we are to imagine the Son during creation, playing before the Father “all the while on the surface of the earth, and finding delight in the human race.” A joyful image!
The Responsorial Psalm, 8, continues the theme of creation. The Psalmist describes himself doing what most of us have done. We look into the night sky in its seeming infinity, populated by the moon and countless stars. And we muse to ourselves, “What are we, that the One who created all of this, would even think about us or care about us? Yet the Creator made us rulers over creation, over animals on the ground, wild beasts, birds, fish.” And we respond, “O Lord, our God, how wonderful is your name in the whole earth.”
The second reading comes from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. Here we find the object of our search within today’s liturgy — mention of the Holy Trinity. Paul first recalls that we have been justified by faith (made acceptable to God — think Father) through Our Lord Jesus Christ. He notes that we have access to grace (God’s favor) through this faith. This makes us secure enough that we can brag (boast) about our hope of enjoying God’s glory. Paul adds a peculiar thought — we can boast also about our afflictions. (That kind of boasting may be quite rare among us.) But why boast about suffering? Because it produces patience, character, hope. All is summed up with a reference (finally) to the Holy Spirit, “The love of God (the Father) is poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
The gospel reading enfolds the Holy Trinity. The Son is the speaker. Within the reading he refers to the Father and to the Holy Spirit. The setting is Jesus’ sermon at the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. It is called the Last Supper Discourse. We have only a short excerpt. In the other three gospels Jesus’ monologue to and his dialogue with his disciples is limited. In John’s gospel the discourse begins in chapter 13 and ends in chapter 17. It should be called the Supersized Last Supper Discourse. Is it any wonder that today’s excerpt begins with these words attributed to Jesus, “I have more to tell you, but you cannot handle it now?” Then the author adds another one and a half chapters. Those opening words, however, are a good way to end a homily so that the people present can look forward to the homilist’s return.
Jesus does have a remedy for his “shortening” of the discourse. “When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” These words constitute one of the foundations of our claim that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church until the end. When one studies Church History, however, it becomes difficult to see just where the Holy Spirit was at work in the Church at various times in her history. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit was at work at all times guaranteeing the survival of the Church despite the all too human beings who from our hindsight seemed to be destroying her. The author points out that the Holy Spirit does not work independently of the revelation brought to us by the Son. “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and declare to you the things that are to come.” What are these things? In early Christianity the phrase “things to come” seems to have been a technical term for end time scenarios, such as we read about in the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation), a work that comes from the same or similar school of thought as John’s gospel, and at about the same time. The last teaching of today’s gospel implies the creed’s profession, that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” “He will take what is mine and declare it to you,” and “Everything that the Father has is mine.”