Tuesday, June 7, 2022

June 12, 2022 - Trinity Sunday

                              Biblical Words                                  [776]

 Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15. 

The Being of God, revealed in creation and redemption, reflects its image in the Human, male and female.

In Christian tradition the first Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to generate and guide the church, the fullness of God has been revealed as containing three aspects – power, vulnerability, and sustaining presence.  Or, as some might prefer to express it, as the parental, brotherly, and mother-sisterly powers of being.

Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31.
The reading from Proverbs presents an intimate companion of God the creator.

In older wisdom rhetoric, wisdom is the acquired learning and insight that makes possible successful living.  In some later parts of Proverbs (e.g., 1:20–33), and even more in books of the Hellenistic period (Ben Sira and Wisdom of Solomon -- both in the "Apocrypha"), the qualities of wisdom, which shape the whole character and being of a wise person, are personified and represented as Woman Wisdom.  (The noun “wisdom” is feminine in both Hebrew and Greek.)  

Woman Wisdom offers humans the benefits of her divine knowledge and insight.  Even some language appropriate to goddesses in a polytheistic world is applied to Woman Wisdom to lift up her divine origin and powers.

The reading in Proverbs 8:22–31 is the most striking presentation of Woman Wisdom in that book.

Wisdom is a divine quality pervading the created world. The creation reveals the masterly design, deep foresight, and intricate harmonies of a profound mind. Thus wisdom was the very first element in the process of world creation, and continues as a sovereign quality of the ongoing nature of the created world.  These ideas are expressed in the poetry of Wisdom’s joyful declarations and celebrations in our passage. “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, / the first of his acts of long ago” (verse 22, NRSV).

At the successive stages of world-structuring (verses 24–29), Wisdom was present, collaborating as it were.   Woman Wisdom is a cheerful and exuberant companion, who sums up her companionship as follows:

I was with Him as a confidant,
A source of delight every day,
Rejoicing before Him at all times,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
Finding delight with mankind [literally, “sons of Adam”].
            (8:30–31, New Jewish Publication Society Version)

In other words, God had a lot of fun in his creative exuberance!

It is not surprising that such language prompted later interpreters to see here anticipations of the Logos as God’s agent of creation, substituting the masculine logos for the feminine sophia.  (“He [the Word] was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him…” John 1:2–3.)  

Or that Christian hymns declared about the beloved Son, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17, NRSV).   And though it is about sustaining creatures rather than creating them, the voice of Woman Wisdom may echo in Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you that are weary …” (see Matthew 11:28–30).

Psalm 8.

The marvel of the created world is also the cause of praising God in the Psalm reading.  It is not so much the intricate wisdom of the creation that is celebrated here as the place of the human in the glory of the created world.

This hymn is ecstatic in its acclamation of the majesty of God’s work in all the universe.  Its poetic skill directs the attention of the hearer over the dimensions of that universe. The attention moves in vertical and horizontal contrasts, closing in from outer extremes to the central motion, that of elevating the human being to rule.

First God’s glory “above the heavens” is celebrated, contrasted with the mysterious babbling of infants protected by God from surrounding enemies (verses 1–2).

Next, the attention goes up again, but only to the visible heavens, not above them. “When I look at your heavens…” with the intricacy of their stars and moon cycles, what a contrast there is, looking downward again, with the modest humans down below.  It makes one ask, “What are humans,” that you (God) take care of them in your way?  Even within the visible intelligible world, God’s creation is awesomely vast in its vertical contrast.

Now there is a motion, a vertical motion.  “Yet you have made the human a little lower than God [the Greek says “angels”], and crowned the human with glory and honor” (verse 5, NRSV modified).  The human has been enthroned, elevated to a position of rule and authority.  Literally, God “has caused the human to rule” (Hebrew māshal in the causative mode).

To rule over what?  Over the works of God’s hands, over everything now set under the human’s feet.

And now our attention follows these things that are under the feet:  “…all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field [as we move out from the center], the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea” (the mysterious horizontal movements around the lower places).  God’s “majesty” is great in all the earth – as exercised through the crowned human being.

Given this utterly lofty status and role of the human, is it any wonder that later interpreters saw in this Human, not just generic people, but an exceptional being of God’s own sending?  In the New Testament, this rule over God’s creation can be exercised only by the true Human, the Anointed One of God, elevated to heavenly status (I Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:5–9, all quoting this psalm).

Romans 5:1–5.

The Epistle reading is a transition passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  It sums up the preceding argument about justification by faith as exemplified in Abraham (chapter 4), points toward the view of Jesus Christ as the New Human (chapters 5–7), and knows the Holy Spirit as the giver of the New Life (chapter 8).

This transitional passage is itself trinitarian.

  • Justification establishes “peace with God” and leads to the “hope of sharing the glory of God” (verses 1–2).
  • The justification was brought about by the Lord Jesus Christ who leads the justified ones into suffering, endurance, (new) character, and hope, all of which imitate the self-sacrificing obedience of the Son (verses 3–4).
  • And finally the hope that is the culmination of the new life is caused by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which empowers the new life of the justified ones (verse 5).
John 16:12–15.

The Gospel reading is the final selection in this post-Easter season from the farewell discourses of Jesus in John’s Gospel.  Like the Epistle reading, this is a short text that is marked by its trinitarian balance, though the three aspects of divine being are intermingled throughout the passage.

The speaker is the Son.  What is emphasized at first is the promised gift of the Spirit of truth, but it is the work of the Spirit to “glorify” the Son and to transmit to the disciples what belongs to both the Father and the Son.

The discourses emphasize throughout that there is more to come.  Continuity between Jesus’ teaching when present and what the disciples will need later is provided by the Spirit.  The disciples cannot comprehend it yet, but as they go on more will be unfolded by the Spirit of truth.  Nevertheless, it is also emphasized that what the Spirit will later unfold is only what the Son has already made available, which was in turn what the Son received from the Father.

“All that the Father has is mine” (verse 15).  The kind of personal intimacy that Wisdom shared with the Lord at the dayspring of creation is shared between these personas of God, as this passage presents them.

Much later, Christian bishops and theologians would attempt to give these insights abstract expression in the doctrine of the Trinity.  At the time the Gospel was written, however, the Jesus followers were still experiencing the ongoing “insight by hindsight” provided by the teaching of the Holy Spirit!

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