Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Rm 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20
In our second reading today we heard the words, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” This verse contains a topic I would like to expand on today. It contrasts a spirit of slavery or of fear, with a Spirit of adoption. You could also call it a contrast of God as immanent and God as transcendent. God as very close to us, even within us; and God as distant and even unapproachable. God as scary; God as lovable and loving. God as cold; God as warm.
We find both of these aspects of God represented in the Scriptures. In the Book of Exodus Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, amid smoke, lightning and thunder. Meanwhile, no other person or animal could touch the mountain. Moses was told, “If anyone touches the mountain he must be put to death. No hand shall touch him; he must be stoned to death or killed with arrows. Such a one, man or beast, must not be allowed to live” (Ex 19:12-13). It sounds a bit much for us in our culture today, but I think it represents in a drastic way the reverence and sacredness with which we should regard things that are holy and not take God too lightly.
Also, in the Letter to the Hebrews we read, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). We have to keep these two poles in proper balance — the love of God and the fear of God, his immanence and transcendence — the two seemingly opposite aspects have to be kept in a healthy tension. We don’t want to start seeing God as our buddy, our pal, or even sort of a pet. We don’t want to domesticate him, tame him, put him in a cage or a box where we can control him and feel safe and think we’re in charge. God will always elude our grasp. He will always remain unpredictable and beyond us. He will not always respond the way we want him to or the way we think best. He is not a vending machine where you say prayers and press a button and automatically get what you requested. He sees a much bigger picture than we do.
However, all that being said, I think we might have a tendency to keep God at a distance. Maybe we lean too heavily on the transcendent. So I would like to emphasize today on the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity God’s closeness and his tender love for us. I would like to set aside for a moment his scariness. Maybe we see God as a concept way out there somewhere, and I would like to remind us of just how involved he is in our daily lives, just how immanent his presence is, just how special we are to him.
God the Father isn’t some cranky old man who is still holding a grudge about the way some humans treated him thousands of years ago and he’s demanding the cruel death and torture of his son to balance the scales. In Second Corinthians we read, “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them” (5:19). In other words, he was very much involved in the sacrifice of his son, as Abraham in the Old Testament, and was suffering every bit as much as Jesus was. And as the well-known passage from Jn 3:16 reminds us, “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.”
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we have the beautiful image of the father, representing God the Father. He catches sight of him when he is still a long way off because every day he sits by the roadside, gazing longingly, and pining for the return of his son. And when he does return, he does not reproach him with his mistakes and all the things he got wrong. He throws himself on his neck and weeps and calls for all the best apparel and food (Lk 15:20-24).
In John 8 in the scene of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus looks up after writing in the sand. All the men and their stones had left. Only the woman and he are left. And he says to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (10-11). He is so tender and gentle with her. It’s really quite simple. He does not want to see us in a destructive lifestyle or habit or addiction. Repent and make a firm purpose of amendment, and we’re good to go.
Similar to this glimpse of Jesus that does not want to see us trapped in sin, we see him weeping over Jerusalem when he catches sight of it (Lk 19:41). And he lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!”
And continuing on this theme of the soft side of Jesus, we read in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (11:28-30). And just before that passage Jesus exclaimed, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (11:25).
The Holy Spirit, too, is very intimately involved in our faith-life. As we read in the Letter to the Romans, “The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (8:26).
And in the Old Testament we have that beautiful passage from the Book of Proverbs where we can see the Holy Spirit personified as Wisdom: “When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command; then was I beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of the earth; and I found delight in the sons of men” (8:29-31).
Can you feel God’s immanence in this assembly in this church right now? Matthew 18:20 assures us that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And the Holy Trinity wants to dwell within us. If we keep ourselves free from serous sin it will automatically happen. We have Jesus’ word on it: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23).
And since this is the feast of the Holy Trinity, let us end with a passage that names all three together and emphasizes God’s closeness to us and deep love: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither see nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:15-18).