The Trinity, Andrei Rublev
1411 or 1425–27, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
(About this Image)
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Most Holy Trinity
June 12, 2022
This week, we celebrate the solemnity of the Blessed Trinity, and the church has chosen a selection from the letter of Paul to the Romans as our second reading. We looked at Romans in some detail two years ago and will not review the background again for this passage. (You may find the earlier commentary at Introduction to the Letter to the Romans.) Paul’s style may be somewhat convoluted for our taste, but this passage is well worth following to a most satisfactory indeed inspiring conclusion.
Besides decidedly Pauline themes, we will find some areas of connection with the Gospel readings from St. John of last few weeks. We begin with “Therefore” and can be relatively certain that a conclusion follows. In this case, Paul has developed the concept of justification for four chapters and in chapter five, which we read today, he will tell us the benefits of being justified. Briefly and superficially justified means that a person has a relationship with God. The Greek word from which it derives, dikaiosunē, means righteousness. We are made righteous by the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Catholics, this is a process that requires being led by the Spirit and thus is a this worldly and in that sense very practical experience.
The first benefit that we receive is “peace”. Peace has been a theme we have seen in the post Easter readings from St. John. Paul, like John, sees peace in a Jewish sense: shalom. It means living in harmony with God, with our fellow humans, and with nature. John tells us that it is the peace the world cannot give. (John 14:24) It also has essentially the same meaning as the Kingdom in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke.) Peace is not something we have; it is someplace we live. We live in the kingdom. It is already here but not yet fully established. Thus, as Paul is acutely aware, the benefits of being justified are already here and with the Spirit can grow in our lives, but will not be completely fulfilled in this world.
The other benefits are grace and glory. Paul however first notes that we can receive them, because we have access to God. The image here is of an ancient court. The king must give a subject permission to be in the same room with him. We did not have access to God previously. This does not mean that people were not good. Indeed, we have the prophets and other great people both Jewish and non-Jewish. But no one is good enough to live the life of the kingdom without faith in Jesus. We translate many things as faith, and we need to specify what we mean. In this case, the word used is pistis and it may be best interpreted as trust. It is more than an intellectual assent, but the recognition that Jesus has risen from the dead for our sins and that we prove that we believe by acting accordingly. In short, basing what we do each day on our trust that Jesus is alive and with us. Jesus’s death and resurrection give us access to God, but we can walk up to him only if our lives proclaim it.
Grace here has an aspect of kindness. Through his kindness God has invited us to be with him. This gives us the opportunity to hope for glory.
Like the Gospel writers Paul uses the word doxa, which we translate as glory. As with faith, it is a word which can be translated in many related ways. We have usually seen it as its original sense of “weight” a physical manifestation of the presence of God. Here it is best understood as “image.” In Genesis we read that we were made in the image and likeness of God. (Gen 1:26–28). The psalm sung at Mass this weekend tells us:
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet
Paul reminds us that we are not yet fully the image of God several times in Romans. A famous example:
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God;
We hope for glory because we have begun the journey but are not yet there. Paul however reminds us again that it is only through Jesus.
It is on this—our relationship with Jesus—alone that we can boast. Paul’s next comments may not seem immediately relevant to us, but we should read them carefully. Paul has mentioned boasting several times in Romans and always negatively. One example:
But if you call yourself a Jew
and rely on the law
and boast of your relation to God
Then, as now, we are most likely to be proud and boast of earthly success and prestige. Paul finds this worthless and uses suffering and affliction as something to boast about. He finds that if something brings one closer to Jesus then it is good and worthy of boasting. Therefore, Paul takes an observation which pagan philosophers usually called Stoics would have approved but then baptizes it.
Affliction can produce endurance which will improve our character and give us the hope of which Paul spoke previously. The hope that we will become more the image of God, that for which we have been created.
We must see this as active trusting in our daily lives not just a once in a lifetime experience. The scriptures most especially the Psalms speak of this often and powerfully.
To you my God they cried out and were saved,
on you they placed their hope and were not put to shame”
(Ps 22:6 LXX)
God’s love will never fail never or disappoint because it is not outside of us but in our hearts. We did not put it there the Holy Spirit did.
God pouring his love in our hearts is a constant theme of the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah, for instance writes:
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring
It is not only a gift but an overwhelming one. It fills us and makes us whole.
This passage is chosen for Trinity Sunday not only because it mentions all three members of the Trinity but reminds us of why Jesus revealed the Trinity to us. We are to be God’s glory. Being his presence in the world means that we must live as his image. We are called to accept the gifts of the Spirit and to boast not in privileges of power but in the ministry of service.