Today’s Gospel reading tells us of Jesus’ revealing himself to the disciples in Galilee after his resurrection. Normally in the appearance stories, there is an element of non recognition which alerts us to the message that Jesus is now different from how the disciples remembered him.
In some ways, this passage functions as a summary of the main themes in Matthew’s account: Jesus is the risen Lord, whom the disciples approach in an attitude of worship as they “fell down before him”; Jesus has been presented as the teacher, and now commissions his disciples to carry on his teaching mission; the Son of Man has been given all authority, like the figure in the book of Daniel; the Gentiles, “all the nations”, are to be baptised, something very important to Matthew’s mainly Jewish-Christian community; the Emmanuel theme, revealed to Joseph in the Infancy Narrative, returns with Jesus’ declaration that “I am with you”. The disciples also are no longer referred to as being “of little faith”; they are now entrusted with carrying on the work of Jesus, helped by his presence, which is Matthew’s equivalent of the Holy Spirit. Thus the First Gospel, as it is commonly known, ends on a high note, with the Gospel reaching out to the ends of the earth.
The Easter season came to an end on the feast of Pentecost. Today we celebrate the feast of the Most Trinity, one God in three equal persons. Many preachers and catechists take comfort in the story concerning St Augustine, which tells of the great theologian walking along the beach, wrestling with the problem of how to understand the mystery of the Trinity. He came upon a little child, who had dug a hole in the sand and was going to and from the sea, filling a bucket and emptying the contents into the cavity. “What are you doing?” asked the scholar. “I’m going to empty the sea into this hole,” replied the child. Augustine smiled and said, “You’ll never manage to do that!” to which the other retorted, “I’ll empty the sea into this hole before you manage to understand the Holy Trinity!” Out of the mouth of babes…?
The discussions on the relationship of the persons of the Trinity began after the New Testament was completed. It may seem like avoiding difficult questions to say that, in the end, we have to admit that it is a mystery. However, mystery, in this sense, is not a puzzle that we cannot work out: it is, rather, something so deep that we will never fully comprehend it, but that is no excuse for not trying as best we can to understand what it means.
The doctrines of our faith do not simply tell us something about God: they tell us something about ourselves as well. In the Trinity, we celebrate God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. These are all aspects of God’s love for the world and ourselves, something we will never fully comprehend – at least not in this life
- Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was a bishop in North Africa and has been a great influence on Christian thought in the Western Church.
- He was baptised by St Ambrose in Milan in the year 387.
A mystery is a truth of our faith that we can explore, but never fully understand.
Make the Sign of the Cross slowly: pronounce carefully the names of the persons of the Trinity.