I have always found it significant – and even a little funny – that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was turning water into wine. Instead of feeding the poor, healing the sick, or raising the dead, the first evidence of Jesus’ power that we see in the Gospels was what he did to turn a good celebration into an epic party. “Oh dear, we’ve run out of wine at the wedding reception? How will we go on?” But as we heard in the Gospel reading last week, Jesus comes to the rescue to ensure that the banquet will rock on into the wee hours of the morning. You’ve got to admit – it’s kinda funny.
This Sunday we will see Jesus in a very different light. We’ll hear that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). And in Nazareth, he got up in front of the synagogue and proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-20). “Whoa!” everyone in earshot must have thought. ‘Who IS this guy to make such amazing claims?” But Jesus didn’t stop there. He concluded with a drop-the-mic-and-walk-off-stage zinger of a pronouncement: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). I imagine more than a few high priests and scribes in attendance might have needed a glass of wine after that one!
The interesting thing to me is that in these two Sunday-to-Sunday Gospel readings, we have some great insight into the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The idea of God as father, son, and spirit can be very hard to grasp. “One God in three persons” may seem like a logical fallacy at its best and downright crazy talk at its worst. But these readings give us some insight into the truth this doctrine points toward.
Most of us do okay with the “father” part of the Trinity, even when we reject the gender-exclusive language. People of faith can usually make sense of the idea that we all came from something, that all life has some benevolent source from the very beginning. But even the most devout among us can get hung up when we try to add two more “persons” to this picture.
Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. To me, it’s significant that Jesus’ first miracle dealt with stocking the bar at the wedding bonanza because it’s such a real-life, concrete, completely human incident that could happen to you or me. “Oh my goodness, we’ve invited all these people and now we’re out of wine!” It’s mundane, simple, and ho-hum, just like our own lives. In this way, to say that “Jesus is God” is, by extension, to say that if God can be experienced concretely in this very real human who lived on the earth just as I do now, then all humanity, all life has the potential for the divine presence within it. It doesn’t matter whether we’re at church in the grandest cathedral or bored on the daily subway commute or bemoaning our last bad haircut. It’s all human, and because of Jesus, we know that regular ol’ humanity is a vehicle through which we touch and are touched by the divine.
So that’s two of the three. What on earth should we make of the Holy Spirit? In this Sunday’s reading, Jesus mentions spirit twice: “in the power of the spirit” and “the spirit of the Lord.” For me, the third person of the Trinity is our reminder that God is not a one-and-done reality. God didn’t just kick off creation and then disappear from view, perhaps to binge-watch the unfolding saga of our lives over the eons on some celestial version of Netflix. And God didn’t just interrupt history and show up on the scene in the person of Jesus, maybe during a commercial break when God didn’t like some of the plot twists. To me, the Holy Spirit means “God is God always.” There is no coming and going, showing up with trumpets or hiding from view. God just IS all the time – yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
In short, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity points me to the profound truth that I came from a God of love and connection; that because of Jesus, I know that every tiny little crazy thing in life is suffused with the presence of this God; and that this has been and will continue to be the case forever and ever and ever. For me, that’s some pretty serious “good news.”
By Mary Ann Steutermann, Director of Campus Ministry