Trinity Sunday A
Sunday 4th June 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Nicodemus, a religious leader of Israel, came to Jesus by night. He struggled to understand Jesus’ teaching. After telling him that the Son of Man must be lifted up in order to save, Jesus went on.
‘Because God loved the world so much
he gave what was dearest to him, his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in this Son
may not perish but have the fullness of life.
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge it
but rather to save it through the Son’s very self.
The person who believes in the Son isn’t even judged
but the person who doesn’t believe is already judged
because of their unbelief in the Son of God.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Dan 3: 52-56
The psalm for this Sunday comes from the Hymn of the Three Young Men in the book of Daniel. This is a litany of praise in which all aspects of creation are called upon to praise God. It invites us to continue the praise by naming all aspects and praising God.
God, you are blest: the God of all my ancestors.
Be glorified! Be praised!
God, your name be blest, your name be holy.
Be glorified! Be praised!
God, be blest in your Holy Temple,
Be glorified! Be praised above all!
God, be blest in the depths of the sea
Be glorified! Be praised!
God, be blest across the skies.
Be glorified! Be praised!
God, be blest in the expanse of space.
Be glorified! Be praised!
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, the mystery of who you are is beyond us and yet you still come to us desiring to share the intimacy of your Triune life with us. As we ponder the relationships in our lives, open the eyes of our minds and hearts to the mystery of your relationships. Guided by your Spirit and the teaching of Jesus may we be lead into the fullness of your life and love.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus takes place in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover. Nicodemus, a prominent religious leader comes to Jesus by night. It is clear that he is struggling to understand the meaning of the person of Jesus. He is impressed by Jesus’ deeds and yet he cannot fit Jesus into any of the religious categories by which he understands the works of God. Throughout the conversation Jesus constantly challenges Nicodemus to broaden his horizons and see that his religious tradition is to be used as a springboard into the mystery of God’s love.
Just before where this Sunday’s text begins, Jesus uses the image of the lifting up of the serpent in the desert, a difficult and ambivalent story in Israel’s tradition, as a symbol of the salvation that will take place in his own lifting up. Integral to that story is God’s ability to deal with sin and to give life to those threatened with death. In that context, Jesus states that God has sent, in love, his only Son. This ‘only Son’ is referred to three times here, the only occurrences in this Gospel outside the Prologue. This only Son comes to save, not to judge, but judgment does take place based on the attitude that people take towards this Son. If people believe, that is accept the Son as the centre of gravity in their lives, they will share in the Son’s life and hence be saved. But if they refuse to believe, they will be swallowed up in their own self-absorption and perish.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
There is a curious twist in the wedding vows as they are given in the Catholic ceremony. They begin with the man saying to the woman, ‘I…take you…. to be my wife’, the woman saying to the man, ‘I …take you…to be my husband.’ Then in the formula each promises to the other to be true in all circumstances, and to love and honour the other all the days of his/her life. The twist is that the man does not say: ‘I promise to be your husband’, or the woman say: ‘I am now your wife’. Rather each of them makes the other a spouse (husband or wife) by accepting the other person, promising faithfulness, honour and love. The power and intimacy of this commitment transforms each of the persons into something new.
It is this type of dynamic transformation in a person that Jesus is speaking about when he uses the word ‘believe’ in this Sunday’s Gospel. Belief, here, is not ‘I thought it might be so’, or even ‘I would like it to be so.’ The term ‘believe’ is used after Jesus has described the profundity of God’s love in giving his Son to the world. This love is given so we may have eternal life, the meaning of which is not so much life that goes on and on but rather life that comes from the life of God. What can we humans do in the face of such love? Unlike the spouses at a marriage who make an equal offering to each other, we have nothing to offer God that we have not received. Overawed before such a love, we may feel intimidated. So Jesus states that we should believe. ‘Believe’ in English comes originally from a Dutch word meaning ‘to hold valuable or pleasing’. However overwhelmed we may be by God’s love we can say it is pleasing. From that belief, love may grow. ‘Lord, we believe, help our unbelief.’
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
It is somehow fitting that the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus should be the text for Trinity Sunday. As you will notice only God and the Son are mentioned, not the Spirit which leads one to wonder why this text was chosen but when we look at the person of Nicodemus we struggle towards the reason. Yes, struggle is the important word in that last sentence. In Nicodemus, we have a good, upright and religious figure. Aside from his initial fearfulness, he is a representative of the best of religious leadership of his time but he struggled, oh, how he struggled with what Jesus was saying. His problem was that he kept trying to understand Jesus according to all that he had known before – all the categories he had received in his religious education and from the reflections of his faithful life.
Education and faithful practice can only take you so far in understanding God. Sometimes to fly you have to leave both behind and leap into the dark mystery of God. With the mystery of the Trinity that is especially so. With our human minds we can come to recognise the wonderful majesty of God and with our religious practice we can worship but with the mystery of the Trinity it is only with the experience of loving people that we have an insight into the intimate life of God. In love we know how self-giving for the good of another actually enriches and delights us and how receiving love from another transforms us into a greater person. Here we receive some small understanding of that passionate divine love that came so close to us in the Incarnation: a divine love that creatively holds us in being, a divine love incarnate in our flesh, a divine love that inspires and dances with our spirit.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
The mystery of the Trinity eludes our words and our images but still we try to explore this mystery in whose image we have been made.
– Andrei Rublev’s Trinity is possibly the most famous representation of the Trinity. It is based on the story of Abraham serving the three visitors at Mamre. Click on image for a better view.
– Christ’s Discourse with Nicodemus by Ossawa Tanner.
– This Jesus MAFA of Jesus and Nicodemus well portrays the interaction of light and dark in their meeting.
– This Visit of Nicodemus to Christ is by the American John La Farge (1880).
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
It is in our experience of relationship that we have the best way of entering into the Mystery of the Trinity.
Over this week, mull on the way in which your relationships call you to grow.
Mull on the effect of affirmation on you.
Mull on what happens when you give affirmation.
Mull on the effect of receiving challenges.
Mull on the effect of giving challenges.
As you mull over these effects in your life, consider how they give you images and emotions by which to explore your relationship with God.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
The mystery of God is always beyond us.
Sit quietly with your God and affirm God’s love towards you.
When you are at rest with your God bring up to your consciousness the aspects of God or of life that you find are beyond you, what you don’t understand, what disturbs you.
Take one aspects and hold it gently between you and God. Allow all its complexity and even pain to be there between you and God. Then rest in God’s love. Ask God’s Spirit to led you into mystery allow you to be at peace at the same time.
Rest in God’s love.