2 Corinthians 13:11-13
On this Trinity Sunday, we are first reminded that in our readings for the next couple of weeks the Church is going to take us back to the Paschal mystery we have recently spent 50 days celebrating. Today we are not only reminded that God is “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” attributes so important to God’s nature that in today’s first reading, when the LORD proclaims his name to Moses, he proclaims these attributes. That is why when people speak of a “God of the Old Testament” that is nothing but wrathful or vengeful, that does not line up with a careful reading of the Scriptures. Instead, we see a God who, if anything, is slow to act against His people at all, even when they deserve it. Abraham and Moses were both famously able to “bargain with God,” Abraham convinced God to spare Sodom even if he could only find ten righteous people in the city. (cf. Genesis 18:22-33) (For the record, He couldn’t find any except Abraham’s son-in-law Lot, and He told him to get out of town). Moses begged God to spare the children of Israel after the Lord was so angry with the Israelites for their unfaithfulness that He offered to destroy them and leave only Moses, and make a great nation of Moses and his descendants. (cf. Exodus 32:9-11)
But we know that Scripture tells us that God is unchanging, no one can “change His mind,” so Moses or Abraham could not make God merciful or even change His mind. God was willing to have mercy on the wicked because He was already inclined to be merciful, and He shows that to us every day in how He provides for us.
As He often does throughout the Gospels, Jesus takes what the Old Covenant tells us about God’s nature and clarifies it for all to understand. In today’s Gospel we hear the most well-known verse in all of Sacred Scripture. It is well known because, to their credit, so many of our separated brethren, especially our evangelical separated brothers and sisters, have spent decades making that verse so well known that even the most unchurched person in America knows John 3:16 if they hear it. The verse appears on tee shirts, pens, coffee mugs, and other items that we might term as “novelties.” The small New Testaments that the Gideons often hand out free on college campuses and at hospitals and nursing homes can sometimes be found with a small section in the front with the translation of John 3:16 into many of the languages of the world. As Americans, we are most familiar with some translation of the verse into the “King’s English,” that high-register kind of English that is to be found both in the King James Bible and, for us Catholics, the Douay-Rheims or Confraternity translation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This verse has become such a popular tool for evangelization in modern times that it became popular or fashionable beginning in the late 1990’s until the middle of the last decade for people to attend major sporting events of the kind that would be seen on national television and sit in a spot where the cameras could not miss their massive yellow sign with black paint in all-capital letters: “JOHN 3:16.” For awhile, these signs became so ubiquitous at big sporting events that the video game maker EA Sports actually included someone with a JOHN 3:16 sign in the stands on some of their very realistic sports simulation video games, a few of which I have owned over the years. I have to admit, the first time I ever saw this on a video game, I thought it was pretty awesome that John 3:16 had even made Playstation.
It is often the case, however, that Bible verses which people like to popularly quote are either quoted entirely out of context (something that is all-too common in modern American Christianity), or are quoted apart from the next verse which conveys much more of the story. In the case of this passage, the most important verse for our faith is not John 3:16, as beautiful as that verse is, but the very next verse, John 3:17. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Jesus Christ not only does not wish to condemn us, if you want to understand how much He loves us, then all you really have to do is look and meditate for a few moments on that crucifix behind the altar. Trinity Sunday-which is the patronal feast of our own parish-serves to remind us not only that Christ died for us and that He rose from the Dead, but that He is God-that our God is unlike any other faith’s definition of God, even if others may tell you that we and they worship the same God. Our God is different because our God is the God who hung upon the Cross. Our God loved us so much that He gave Himself to save us, and He continues giving of Himself to us in the Eucharist at every Mass.” God the Father loves us so much that His Son came and died and rose again, and then sent His Holy Spirit so that all of humanity could enter into covenant and into relationship with a God who had previously been unknown to so much of humanity.
Appropriately for the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, today’s Gospel has three verses. It is the 18th verse which a lot of people don’t like to deal with, because there Jesus makes clear (as he does all through the Gospels), what the consequences can be for those who willingly choose not to believe in Him. Everyone loves the first verse of today’s Gospel, and it is very easy to get people to read and love the second verse, but the third verse is one we rarely ever hear in our popular culture, because this is not the Jesus our popular culture would like to hear from. Our society has painted a picture of the non-judgemental Jesus who accepts everyone and everything, including every possible sinful choice we can possibly imagine. Those who are bold enough to call sin what it is in today’s society are often told “Jesus said you shouldn’t judge!” Nevermind that this is not what Jesus actually said. What He said, taken in context, was that we should not judge others unless we are prepared to be judged by those same standards. The Christ of both Scripture and Church teaching is not non-judgemental at all. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the Supreme Judge of the world. In a few moments we will say the Creed, where we will profess that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” If you are familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours, you might be familiar with the ancient hymn Te Deum, said or sung on most Sundays of the year, you may know that it contains the words “you are seated at God’s right hand in glory, we believe that you will come and be our judge.” Christ offered himself up for us precisely because one day we will face Him as Judge. He loved us enough to give us the opportunity to face that judgement forgiven of our sins. Let us all examine our consciences so that we might be prepared every day to face Christ as both our Savior and our Judge.