Wisdom of God, Spirit of God: A Reflection on the Lectionary Readings for 30 May 2010

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for 30 May 2010 (Trinity Sunday, Year C)

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 and Psalm 8 • Romans 5:1-5 • John 16:12-15

The Trinity still makes me nervous.

I have no trouble confessing that God is Father and Son and Spirit.  I have no trouble singing hymns that affirm the same.  But as I’ve noted before, whenever someone with a seminary education (other than myself, of course–I’m not that much of a cowardly lion) mentions Trinity, more often than not I see a wolf circling.  As far as my daily life goes, I never turn my back on anyone who uses the word “perichoresis” unless doing so means that I can keep my eye on another person who says “modalism.”

When I revisit Proverbs 8, I remember why I ended up doing my first graduate degree in Biblical studies instead of systematic theology.  Here Wisdom, personified, stands opposite of Folly, likewise personified, and both look about the same to the uneducated eye.  (That’s the point of the allegory, best I can tell.)  Christians, and especially those who put together lectionaries, have noticed that Wisdom makes certain claims about herself that resonate with John’s opening poetry and to certain bits of Paul, so it’s come to be part of Christians’ traditional readings for Trinity Sunday, but enough of the original morality-allegory remains to make the self-description far more fun than a discussion of distinction-without-difference.  (For what it’s worth, one should note that Boethius was talking about alteritas/otherness some time around the early sixth century; that’s not to say that Hegel adds nothing to the discussion, but he’s adding to a discussion, not creating dialectics out of thin air.)  What looks basically like Folly when both call out from doorways in the marketplace is actually an ordering principle that was before the formless-and-void earth, whose craft shapes all things that God makes, whose work delights the Almighty.  It’s no wonder that the unassuming Nazarene whose resurrection signals the inbreaking of a new heavens and a new earth made those early Christians think of this bit of wisdom literature.

Although I have a feeling that my Eastern Orthodox brethren and sostren would find it a bit too sociological and not nearly ontological enough, I still like John Howard Yoder‘s take on the Trinity: it’s a tool that the early Church (infused as always with the Spirit) developed so that we could read the gospel of John.  (To be fair, for Yoder, the Scriptures reveal the true character of Being, so his take is roundabout ontological.)  Or, to take the chain of reference in a different direction, it’s one way in which the texts of the Scriptures that the earliest Christians would have agreed to call Scriptures stand to interpret the Christ-event.  Or, if that’s still a bit too historical to fit with some folks’ visions of the Eternal, the Trinity has always been there, but human beings needed some history to figure that out, and the possibility always stands open that someone might articulate “that” a bit better than previous generations had.

I’ve only ever preached the Trinity when the gospel of John came up in the lectionary readings, but when it has I’ve tried to be bold in doing so.  I can only hope that those sermons don’t become fodder for seminarians.  Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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