(Matthew 28: 16-20)
On this feast of the Holy Trinity, I thought we could at three simple questions: “How do you describe, imagine, envision the Holy Trinity? What does the risen Jesus send us out to do in the name of the Holy Trinity? And how are we going to do it?
When I was in theology school, we spent a semester studying Trinitarian theology, the theology of the Holy Trinity, reflecting on God as Creator, Christ and Spirit, and the history of the church’s understanding of God. The theology and history books use big words to describe God, like “substance”, “essence” and “hypostasis,” and most of the time, I had no idea what they were talking about. But it is important to reflect on the nature of God, just as it is important to reflect on the nature of our humanity, on being human, and so, we can ask each other, “How do we describe God? What is God like? Why is God three persons? How can three persons be in one person? How do you imagine the nature of God?’
The church has always taught that God is a mystery, and the mystics teach that the closer we get to God, the more mysterious God becomes. God is completely incomprehensible, Karl Rahner wrote, complete mystery. We cannot understand God, and God seems to have created us so that we cannot understand God even though we have a desire to seek God. On the other hand, we can love God, and we can know God’s love for us if we dare open our hearts to God’s love and God seems to have created us to share God’s love with us.
The great lesson I took from that class was that from St. John to the medieval scholar Richard of St. Victor to Leonardo Boff the Franciscan theologian from Brazil, the church teaches that the nature of God, the nature of the Holy Trinity, is communitarian. God is a community of love!
Now everything in our culture tells us not to be a community of love. We have to look out for ourselves, be number one, get ahead others, step over others, not care about anyone else, but if we are made in the image of God, and if this is the image and nature of God, then we too are supposed to be a community of love. We are created to be a community of love, in our families and neighborhoods, and throughout the whole world. The universal church is supposed to be a global community of small communities of love, living in the image of God’s communitarian love, modeled after the Holy Trinity.
So what does the risen Jesus tell the disciples to do in the name of the Holy Trinity? Here at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he sends them out to “make all the nations of the world into disciples,” to baptize them in the name of the Trinity, to create a global community of love. It’s an extraordinary mission and each one of us is supposed to take up this work, to make not just individuals into disciples, but to make the nations of the world into disciples.
To be a disciple means to be a students, a follower. Jesus is the master, the teacher, the leader, so we, the students and followers learn from him and do what he tells us to do. He tells us to love one another, serve one another, feed the hungry, care for the needy, forgive one another, make peace and seek justice. So that’s what we have to do as his disciples.
But he says we are not only supposed to help one another become better disciples but to make all the nations of the world into disciples, which means all the nations of the world are summoned by God to love one another, feed the hungry, heal the sick, bring justice, serve one another, make peace and love their enemies. I don’t think there is a single nation in the world that lives in discipleship to Christ. If it did, there would not be any hunger or illness or executions or war or bombs or injustice.
So how are we to help make the nations of the world into disciples? Well we don’t make them disciples by bombing them. We don’t make them disciples by stealing their natural resources. We don’t make them disciples by letting them starve to death. We don’t make them disciples by threatening to vaporize them with our nuclear weapons unless they do what we say. We make them disciples by loving them, serving them, being peaceful toward them, and sharing with them our vision of God’s reign of nonviolence.
Certainly, each one of us can pray for the conversion of the nations of the world to live according to the Gospel. We can each try to become better disciples ourselves. We can create a better local “community of love,” modeled after the Holy Trinity. We can support the universal church as it tries to speak for global justice. And we can each get involved in one specific issue or cause, learn about it, join our local or regional peace and justice group and pitch in to help change the world. Archbishop Romero said over and over again, none of us can do everything, but all of us can do something!
Matthew’s conclusion notes that those first disciples worshipped Jesus but doubted him, which is probably how we feel too, with a mixture of worshipping him but not really believing him or believing this work is possible. But Jesus doesn’t condemn them. He just encourages them and us to go forward and fulfill his mission and he gives us a great promise, one of the great lines in the scriptures, that no matter what we’re going through, no matter what our doubts and despair, as we try to be his disciples and help make disciples of all the nations, Jesus says to each one of us, “I am with you always.” What a wonderful promise. What more do we need? If Jesus is with us, then the Holy Trinity is with us, and all things are possible.