Sunday, June 7, 2009

You Have Received A Spirit of Adoption, Through Whom You Can Call "Abba, Father!"

Moses said to the people:
Ask now about the days of old, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything as great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by trials, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

Acknowledge now, and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time.
Deuteronomy 4:32-34; 39-40

Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by which we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our own spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:14-17

The eleven disciples then went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but they doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And be sure that I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:16-20

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Today’s gospel, Jesus’ commission to the Eleven, takes place on a mountain, a symbolic place were mere mortals encounter the divine presence. These summits of encounter between humanity and divinity combine to evoke the memory of critical turning points in human history: Ararat, where Noah built the Ark; Moriah, where Abraham was sent on his journey from Arabia to the west bank of the Jordan; Sinai, where Moses received the tablets of the Law. Matthew, in keeping with this tradition, brings the story of God’s plan to its climax. He narrates the account of Jesus’ temptation, his inaugural sermon, and his transfiguration, placing all three critical events on mountain tops. Later, he tells of the testing of Jesus’ faith in a garden on the Mount of Olives, and brings the story to its climax with his crucifixion and death on Skull Mountain (mons calvariae), where Jesus suffers and die in obedience to the Father’s will, to achieve the redemption of the brothers and sisters who share his human nature.

Today, on yet another summit, God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants forever, after the test of his own faith on Mount Moriah, where he offered his son in sacrifice, has been fulfilled by the sacrifice of God’s only-begotten Son. Yet the salvation promised to Abraham is extended well beyond the descendants of Isaac and those of Ishmael, for God promised that from Abraham’s seed “all the nations of the earth will find blessing.” (Genesis 22:1-18)

Today, on yet another mountain top, Jesus sends forth the Eleven with three commissions: They are to make disciples of the people of all nations; they are to baptize them in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; they are to teach them to observe the commandments (the same precepts which God gave to Moses on Sinai).

It is the mission of the Apostles to bring other people in contact with the God who brought us all into being, who took on human form and flesh in order to redeem us, and who fills us with the graces we need to do God’s will. [By the way, God’s will is not about avoiding wrong, but about doing right. There is nothing negative about God, and therefore there is nothing negative about doing God’s will!]

The primary responsibility of the disciples – the followers of Jesus – is to bring other people to become disciples – followers of Jesus. It is a responsibility we acquired when we were baptized, and which was confirmed in us when we received the gifts of the Holy Spirit (which is why the second sacrament is called Confirmation). If you are an adult, especially a parent, it is your mission. If you are a teen, or even a pre-teen, it is your mission toward your friends and your younger brothers and sisters. If you have been ordained as a deacon, a priest, or a bishop, it is your mission to the people of your parish or your diocese.

At this point, you may be wondering whether I’m delivering the right sort of message for this Sunday dedicated to the Holy Trinity. I believe I am! The text of today’s gospel is the clearest of references to the Trinity in all of scripture, and if you consult the commentaries, you will find that the scholars consider that this phrasing, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, was an element of the form of Baptism even before Matthew inserted it into the text of his gospel.

Jesus never explicitly taught about the Trinity. He referred on many occasions to his Father, and to the closeness of their personal relationship. Moreover, he taught us to pray to His Father in the most intimate and personal manner, as Our Father.

Jesus also promises in the gospel to send us his Spirit, and in today’s gospel, when he promises to be with us until the end of time, we understand that it is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus is present to us always. As Paul writes in Romans, we have received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we are able to call “Abba, Father.” It is the Holy Spirit who bears witness together with our own spirit that we are children of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ to the joys of the eternal kingdom of Heaven. It may be, as Paul writes, that will we have to suffer as Jesus did in this life before we can be glorified with him in the next life. But that, dear sisters and brothers, is a topic for yet another meditation.

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