John 3: 16-18
The passage we read from the Book of Exodus on the Feast of the Holy Trinity follows upon a description of how Moses broke the first set of the tablets of the commendments when he discovered the people of Israel worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-19). In Moses’ anger he threw to the ground and shattered the tablets which had been inscribed by the very hand of God.
Shortly after the time of Jesus’ life rabbinic traditions developed suggesting that although these broken tablets appeared to be ruined, and were soon replaced by a second set, the people of Israel recognized that they were still holy and that they were thus worthy of preservation. These traditions assert that the pieces of the broken tablets were therefore collected and kept in the ark together with the whole tablets as a sign of respect and reverence for the instruments—now broken—through which God revealed his salvific will to his people.
The broken tablets of the rabbinic story may be taken as an analogy for the brokenness which each one of us experiences during the course of life, and which we see in many forms in the world around us. In spite of a person’s weakness or brokenness, the rabbis taught that every person, no matter how defeated or broken by life, is worthy of respect and honor—we would say that they possess an intrinsic dignity, bearing as every person does the image and likeness of God.
On Trinity Sunday we are reminded that God sees the world in this same way. Although throughout the gospel of John “the world” is consistently described as a reality which stands in opposition to Jesus, in today’s gospel proclamation he nonetheless says that he came by the will of the Father precisely to save the very world which sought to put him to death, and which is often a source of anxiety and frustration for us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God did this in Christ because while the world has been corrupted by sin, it remains intrinsically good because it was created by God, just as we are fundamentally good in spite of the brokenness we experience due to our sins. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
Later in John’s gospel Jesus repeatedly emphasizes in his discourses to the disciples that in order to come to eternal life with the Father—in order to transcend the world and its brokenness as well as our own—one must believe in Jesus himself, who says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Turning back to where we began, from the pages of Exodus we hear today how the Lord passed before Moses proclaiming: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Exodus 34:6). Moses then responded to this appearance of the Lord, saying, “Lord, come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and claim us as your own” (Exodus 34:9).
Moses recognized the brokenness of the people of Israel and their need for salvation, and he begged the healing remedy of God’s presence with them as they journeyed in the desert. This Sunday as we commemorate the abiding presence of the Holy Trinity in the life of the Church we give thanks for God’s presence in the person of Christ, who came to save our broken world; for his presence in the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our hearts; and for his presence in us—broken vessels made whole again through the gracious mercy of our triune God.
Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B.