Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of John 3:16–18. The Trinity is the revelation of God’s identity as three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This teaching is relevant for us because we believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Thus, in learning about God, we also learn about who we are when we are true to our deepest identity. Our study of this passage will offer important insights for discovering that identity and understanding the challenges in living it.
The first thing Jesus reveals to us about the nature of God is that God is a communion (community) of persons in relationship. The very terms “Father” and “Son” are statements of relationship and that they share a life of loving communion. That is the deepest nature of who God is. This relationship means, in a real sense, that we as a human community will express our deepest nature and identity when we mirror God’s relational life of loving communion. It means that we can only become our truest selves when we give of ourselves to another in an act of complete selfless love. It means that we cannot be our truest self as long as we live lives of individuality, isolation, or self-interest. It means that humanity cannot realize its deepest nature until we love all people with equality and justice. It means that divisions of every kind are a fundamental sin against the unity of God. In short, the life of the Trinity is the model for our human lives and relationships. What does that have to say about you, your family and your professional life?When do you feel most connected to humanity on a profound level?In what experiences do you feel that you are living your truest identity by your self-gift to another person?What are the primary sources of division that erode the communion God desires in our families, communities, and friendships?
This passage tells us that the Father so loved the world that He “sent” His only Son. Later, we are told that the Father “gave” the Son to the world. Thus, God is known through His loving actions of giving and sending. These are statements of God’s great generosity. The Father sends the Son; the Son later sends the Spirit when He sends the disciples to continue His mission. The Father also gives the Son to the world when Jesus, the eternal Word of God, takes flesh and is born in time. Then Jesus gives His life on the cross and continues to give His life for us in the Eucharist. John’s Gospel is full of statements that tell us how God “sends” and “gives”. We believe that we are made in God’s image and likeness; therefore, in order for us to truly be ourselves, we have to become active agents in God’s great cascade of love by not only receiving God’s generosity but by allowing God’s generosity to flow through us to others. When we become a conduit rather than just a container of God’s generous life and love, then we become active participants in the divine life of the Father and the Son. The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father and us; the Son sends the Holy Spirit to allow us to receive that love and to return that love so that we can enter into that life-giving relationship (Rom 5:5). What is the difference between a disciple who is a “conduit” of God’s life and a disciple who is only a “container” of God’s life? For example, someone who receives but does not give?Who is an example of God’s generous love for you?When have you received something freely as a gift of God and then passed that gift on to others?God is known through His actions. What have you come to know about God through His action in your life or the lives of others?
This passage contains one of the most quoted statements of Jesus in the entire New Testament. We see the verse of John 3:16 everywhere. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” However, when we take this text out of its context then we risk misunderstanding its intended meaning. It is important to remember that in verse 14 Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus specifically about how Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert and of how the Son of Man will be “lifted up” so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Thus, it is very clear that to “believe” in the Son means to believe in God present in Jesus crucified, that is “lifted up”. To be “lifted up” in John’s Gospel is always a reference to Calvary. The Father sent the Son with the specific mission of making God known in the world. In order to make God known, Jesus had to make love known because God is love. Thus, Calvary is Jesus’ ultimate revelation of who God is. When we “believe” in the Son of Man, Jesus, “lifted up”, then we believe in the love of God present and poured out for us on the cross of Calvary. When we say “yes” to that love, we are also saying “yes” to manifesting that love in our lives so others can believe in God through us — we are saying “yes” to living the cross every day. We can’t accomplish that mission on our own; that is why at Pentecost we read that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so we, as His disciples, could be “sent” just as Jesus was “sent” and so continue His mission of making God known in the world (Jn 20:19–23). Thus, the action of God’s self-revelation involves the Father who sends, the Son who makes known, and Spirit who empowers us to continue that great work of divine self-communication. What is the cross in your life that God wants to use so as to reveal His love to someone else through you (that is, in what way do you reveal God’s selfless, sacrificial, self-giving love for others)?What other moments in Jesus’ life and ministry can people focus on as the foundation of their belief of God in Jesus?What is the danger of founding our faith on a moment in Jesus’ life other than Calvary?The Father sent the Son so that we might have life through Him, yet there are many temptations to find our “life” in something other than Jesus. What are the false ways in which people try to find life today?
As we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we remember that God is beyond our comprehension and that no matter what God reveals to us, the Lord always remains a mystery. Thus, in faith we accept what God has revealed without needing to fully understand it and thus reduce it to the level of human reason. St. Bernard said that when we seek God, He provides the occasion, He creates the affection, and He consummates the desire.”
Remember, God is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, De Diligendo Deo,
7.22, (3:137.18-138.2), quoted by B. McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism,
vol. II, New York: Crossroad, 1994, p. 195.