JANUARY 9, 2011 –BAPTISM OF THE LORD: MATTHEW 3:13-17

HOLY SCRIPTURE IS A STREAM IN WHICH A LAMB CAN WADE AND AN ELEPHANT CAN SWIM. This colorful and rather humorous observation, made by Saint Gregory the Great fourteen hundred years ago, is the fruit of an intense study of the word of God over a number of years. The insight it reflects is well illustrated by the account we have just heard in today’s Gospel. The issues raised are not minor in nature, but concern the very nature and intent of the Gospels. Jesus came, like John the Baptist who prepared his way, preaching to the poor and simple as well as to the wise and learned. Faith is a gift offered by God to the humble of heart; the insights and understanding supplied by faith far surpass the intelligence and wisdom of this world. Today’s reading from Saint Mathew well illustrates this characteristic of the inspired text.

Any intelligent and thoughtful adult, no matter how highly educated, will find in the revelation of the one God in the three persons of the Trinity as described in our text, abundant matter to reflect on. The more we examine these lines, the stronger grows our awareness that full understanding of the implication of the revelations made at the Baptism of Jesus far surpasses our human powers. Only by the guidance of grace, after considerable time, did it prove possible to reconcile the preaching of three divine person with the conviction that there is but One God alone. In the year 180 Theophilus of Antioch, writing in Greek, referred to God as a ‘trias’ that is ‘a threesome’. It was a generation later before Tertullian used the Latin term “Trinitas” as an apt term for the nature of God. Neither in the original Greek scriptures nor the early Latin versions contain either word. Much thought had to be expended by the best mind before reason could find a way to reconcile the truth here revealed in the Gospel account of the Baptism and other pertinent passages of the Scriptures. That the one God subsists by his very nature in three persons was the proper way to state her understanding of the Scriptures was expressly accepted by the Church as her essential teaching only after much discussion and was marked by appreciable dissension. Still today few are aware of the fact that the term ‘person’ as used in reference to God has a different meaning than it has when used of humans. We conceive of a human person as an individual with an independent will, memory, and mind. Whereas the persons of the Trinity, have but a single will and knowledge and understanding, participated in by three distinctive relations. How this can be remains mysterious to human understanding. It is helpful that applied to the Trinity the words one and three do not have the same meaning they have when used in reference to any created thing or set.

As profound as this mystery remains, yet an alert seven year old child who should hear this passage read would find it an easy matter to understand the message concerning Jesus’ divinity and the testimony he received from God the Father and the Holy Spirit in this story of his baptism. I had occasion some years ago to verify the fact that a child can readily accept such revealed truths without hesitation. My brother came with his family to the monastery at Gethsemani at the annual visit. He, his wife and four of his sons went to communion at the mass I offered in the chapel. The fifth boy, being seven years old, had not yet made his first communion but was being prepared for it at his parish. When the family met after mass in the parlor, he broke into the conversation I was having with his parents, saying “I want to go to communion.” His father told him he could not yet receive. The boy, however, repeated his words with strong feeling “I want to go to communion.” Noting how much this desire meant to him, and that he felt somehow left out of something important, I told him to come with me into an adjacent room alone, where I questioned him. “What is communion, do you know? ”Communion is Jesus,” he promptly answered. “Who is Jesus?” I then asked. Without delay he said quite simply “Jesus is God.” So I told him, tomorrow at mass you can go to communion, and he did. I told my brother to inform the pastor what had transpired. That child’s belief in the Eucharist illustrates the same faith that we are confronted with in today’s Gospel in reference to the Trinity. The wondrous fact that the Word of God, who, as Saint John affirms, is God has assumed human nature while remaining a divine Person is another manifestation of the surpassing mystery that is our one God. Fully to live we must know him who will always be more than we can comprehend, and we must cultivate a loving union with Him in order to know Him. Loving desire that surrenders in trusting faith in Our Lord is the fruit of prayerful participation in the Eucharist we are offering in this assembly. May we so partake of this sacrament and so take in the word of our Gospel that we grow in that union with God which alone is the measure of our fulfillment as persons. Growth in this loving knowledge is the purpose of this mortal life. Let us make it our own aim in all that we do, today and always.


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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