Trinity Sunday (Year B)
Gospel: John 3:1-17
By Victoria Marie
Today is Trinity Sunday. Today’s scripture readings provide an opportunity to reclaim or reinterpret these texts using the Holy Trinity as the template for all relationships. And so, today is an opportunity to reflect on the past with an eye on reconciliation between First Peoples and settler peoples of Canada.
In the reading from Roman’s, Paul, tells us “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” We Christians have been quite arrogant by trying limit whom and how the Spirit of God leads. God, Father/Mother, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit, has been active in the world since the beginning—always and everywhere: before Christianity and Christendom; before creeds and cathedrals; and, before dogma and doctrine.
I often think fiction writers are better theologians than theologians. Take the movie, Winter’s Tale, as an example. In the movie, Colin Farrell plays a thief. He is assisted by a mystical white horse, whose sudden appearance and extraordinary abilities, Farrell is at a loss to explain. Graham Green plays Farrell’s friend, a Native American man who recognizes the horse as the Spirit Guide who also can appear as a dog. Lastly, from what one would understand as a Christian theological perspective, Russell Crowe plays a demon minion of the devil, who recognizes the horse as Farrell’s guardian angel. This heavenly being, in horse form, assists Farrell’s character to achieve what the film calls his ‘miracle’, that is, what God put him on this earth to do.
This film artfully and deftly shows that representation of God’s presence is open to interpretation. But the fact of God’s presence in peoples’ lives is a fact, whether or not that presence can be defined or detected by Church leaders.
The leads me to today’s gospel, specifically John 3:5, “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Historically, the church has taken this verse along with John 3:17 “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” and interpreted these verses through the lens of Matthew 28:18, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Although today’s gospel points to the Trinity, it is interpreted narrowly and became an excuse for the doctrine of discovery and therefore, colonization and forced conversions. Lip service was/is paid to belief in the Trinity but that belief has been acted upon as if God is only the Father, the Almighty King.
When Christians think of God only as Father, when God is not understood as Trinity, it can and has led to totalitarianism in politics, authoritarianism in religion, paternalism in society. The “Age of Discovery” is an example of the marriage between totalitarianism and authoritarianism based on the notion of an almighty God the Father—the King of heaven, represented on earth by the pope and Christian kings. This ideology clothed in theology produced two papal documents that still influence indigenous-settler relations to this day.
In 1452 Pope Nicholas V issued a decree that gave the Portuguese King carte blanche to seize control of ‘discovered’ lands and permission to enslave the land’s inhabitants. Then in 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued Inter Cetera, which ordered that “barbarous nations be overthrown” and those nations “discovered” be converted to the Catholic faith “to propagate the Christian religion” (Taliman, 1994). These documents had lasting deleterious results. For example, the Beothuk of Newfoundland and the Tainos of the Caribbean were hunted or worked to extinction by europeans. The Native peoples of North America, Africa and other parts of the world were oppressed, persecuted, and dispossessed of their lands and livelihoods as european nations sought to subdue and Christianize them—often by force.
To go forward we need to understand that in the Trinity, God is Father[/Mother], Son, and Holy Spirit in reciprocal communion. The persons of the Trinity, to quote Leonardo Boff in Holy Trinity: Perfect Community,
coexist from all eternity; none is before or after, or superior or inferior, to the other. Each Person enwraps the others; all permeate one another and live in one another. This is the trinitarian communion, so infinite and deep that the divine Three are united and are therefore one sole God…. [E]ach person is in communion with the other two.
In a society based in the Trinity, rather than an authoritarian conception of God, each person “is accepted as they are, each opens to the other and gives the best of himself or herself,” (Boff). We are all made in the image of God, whose love is self-effusive. Love flows between the Persons of the Trinity, as well as outwards to creation. We and the rest of creation are all God’s love made manifest. We manifest God’s love when we open our hearts and minds to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We manifest the creative love of the Mother as we develop right relationships with and between all beings. We can manifest Jesus’ redemptive love by living as he taught, that is, to treat each other in ways that contribute to the well-being of all.
From today’s gospel, an inspiration for reflection could be taken from the more holistic and inclusive verse 3:8 “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” With the Holy Trinity as our Template, we can respect the Holy Spirit present in everyone. As Canadians and Christians, we are called to work towards finally building the relationships represented in the Two Row Wampum: people living in harmony, respecting each others’ religions, values and cultures, living in friendship, peace and justice and, possibly learning from each other in the ethos of the closing words of a prayer attributed to the Lakota People based on the concept of Mitakuye Oyasin (All my Relations).
You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery. Thank you for this Life. –Lakota Sioux Prayer retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/nf3cjqs
The generations before us can’t mend the harms done but we can. We can work towards reconciliation by allowing the Spirit to guide us, to recognize the presence of the Spirit in the Other. We can allow Jesus to love through us so completely that like the protagonist in Winter’s Tale, we too can achieve the miracle that Mother/Father God put us on this earth to do.
The Reverend Doctor Victoria Marie is is co-founder of the Vancouver Catholic Worker, on unceded Coast Salish Territory. She is a priest, spiritual director, and pastor of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin Roman Catholic Women Church Community and author of Transforming Addiction: The role of spirituality in learning recovery from addiction (Scholars Press, 2014).
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.
Another Wild Lectionary post on this gospel passage can be found here and a Radical Discipleship post on the passage is here.