Sunday after Sunday and on solemnities throughout the liturgical year, we get to familiarize ourselves with Jesus, our God in human flesh: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
And, throughout the year, Jesus introduces the Father to us. Then, on Pentecost day we contemplate the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, the Advocate, given us by the victorious Risen Lord; he is always ready to be summoned by earnest prayer to be at our side to defend us from the attacks of Satan, to enlighten and console us.
Hence, on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, emboldened by the Holy Spirit and accompanied by our elder brother Jesus, we dare to step gingerly and humbly into the very mystery of the Godhead.
Mindful that Jesus is our elder brother, who knows all there is to know about human frailty, we should not be surprised that he keeps revealing himself as Lord the same way he revealed himself since the first time Moses and the Israelites needed a second chance after they botched their first opportunity of embracing God’s ten commandments.
The setting is truly an eye-opener (cf. Exodus 34: 1-9). The trappings suggesting his undisputed majesty and total otherness are all there; the holy mountain is still off-limits but the Lord wants to show to his chosen people that their weaknesses and fickleness have been taken into account in the making of the Covenant. In the situation in which palpable fear of justly-deserved punishment is mixed with a glimmer of hope, the Lord proclaims his name “LORD,” thus reminding his people that even a hasty consideration of his name should be sufficient to turn that glimmer of hope into a robust flame burning away most of their fear. Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out, “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity…” (Exodus 34:6)
The Jubilee Year of Mercy is scarcely behind us. It would be unfortunate if we were to continue our journey to heaven without having etched in our minds that “The Name of God is Mercy.” (Title of a collection of conversations between Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli and Pope Francis) Thus, it would be foolish presumption on our part to attempt a meaningful celebration of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity without being completely, thoroughly conscious of our brokenness and wounds or attempting to minimize the size of our sinfulness.
The Lord cries out that he is a merciful and gracious God and John echoes that reassuring claim by adding that God is love (cf. 1 Jo. 4:8 & 4:16). With our human resources we would have never reached that most astounding twofold conclusion: God is mercy; God is love. It had to be revealed from above, otherwise our innate frailty, weakened by our wanderings and disloyalties would make our journey to our heavenly Home impossible.
Realistically, what can our human frailty afford to do to show our unselfish love for someone? We might be willing to give a pint or two of our blood. We might donate one of our kidneys or try to save the life of a blood cancer patient by donating some of our bone marrow stem cells. But, could we be willing to cut off the tip of one of our fingers; could we do something really crazy if madly in love with someone? Yet, this is what God did: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The trouble with this statement made by Jesus to Nicodemus is that is it so passionate that we have trouble processing it in a worthy fashion. I am inclined to believe that Jesus expects us to reach the conclusion that God is madly, insanely in love with us and our world. This is not the time to forget that we are in this world and that we have lost count of the times we were disgusted with it or completely frightened by its crazy antics.
Yet, this is the world that God loves so much.
The next step leading us to reach the right conclusion about God’s love/mercy is this: God gave up his ONLY Son. Had he had several Sons, his decision would have proven the significance of his sacrifice. But here we are confronted with the astounding fact that God the Father cannot sacrifice anyone else; God cannot go any further in his self-giving! One more step leading us to the conclusion that God is madly, insanely in love with us is this: the horrific, blood-curdling, prolonged tortures that he allowed his Son to endure all the way to the cross. It could be wise of us to watch again the “Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson. And the final step: we do not deserve a single drop of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Thus, our reading from Exodus (34: 4b-6, 8-9) and passage from the Gospel of John (3:16-18) state the same incredibly shocking truth that our Triune God’s mercy/love precedes the proper, desired response and good conduct on our part because God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity from before all ages and into eternity.
However, our Triune God, who has written off our huge debt (cf. Matthew 18:27) has placed a non-negotiable condition for our admittance into the eternal, heavenly Home. Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35)
This is the reason why St. Paul, who was exuding constant gratitude for the loving and merciful way in which God dealt with him, concludes his Second Letter to the Corinthians urging harmony, reconciliation, rejoicing and peace within one and all Christian communities (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:11-13).
That urging is a wish that we shall take to heart decisively, because only by striving to be as merciful and as loving as our Father is, we will enjoy that life for which we long so ardently: when we shall be sealed forever in the embrace of the Holy Trinity.