“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).
What is the foundation of the concepts “first” and “last”?
“First” is derived from one. One is derived from two. Unity and multiplicity give rise to each other as relative concepts. Both arise from the perception of parts outside of parts. The origin of numbers and sequence in human thought began with countable objects, including humans themselves.
Numbers are neither primordial nor eternal, as the simple Trinity is indivisible and has no parts. Concepts of One and Three in discussing the Trinity belong to religion—the sphere of humankind’s return to unity. Indeed, the word “religion” comes from the Latin re + ligare (to bind back), an etymology discovered by early Roman grammarians and St. Augustine.
Consciousness of separation (among objects, humans, and between humans and God) generated the need to “bind back” what was divided.
“First” can ultimately be traced back to the primeval wound and separation of Adam from the Trinity. The one-pointed, “single eye” of original consciousness was simple and undifferentiated. As in the Trinity, the first human person had awareness of a unique “I” in communion with three unique “I’s,” but without consciousness of boundaries. Persons in communion (perichoresis) interpenetrate or dwell within one another in a manner beyond the dichotomy of spirit and matter. The process of return to the Trinity requires the transformation of fragmented consciousness (viewing the “I” as separated from all others) to a unified consciousness (realizing the “I” as inseparable from all others).
In the untransfigured realm, persons experience one another as individuals. The “I” of each person appears circumscribed by shape and form; existence extends only as far as the epidermal limit. Consciousness conditioned by spacetime projects its categories onto the divine, which is evidenced in language and grammatical structures. For example, the concept of “equality” is derived from spacetime: What is Equality? (Part 2)
The resurrection of Christ reveals the embryonic potential of matter for deification and transfiguration to an all-encompassing, undifferentiated state. When indivisible union and communion are brought to fruition in the Trinity, there will be no foundation (fissure) for “first” and “last.”
Concepts, words, language and thought are all temporary vehicles for our journey back to unity in the Trinity.
Click here for another reflection on the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard: Indivisible Glory
Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
A camel’s hair can pass through the eye of a needle, but not the rest of the beast. One must be free of attachments to fly through the eye, as Mary did at her Assumption.
Yet even a hair may be too thick. A bird tied down to the earth by a thread is no better than one tethered by a thick rope, according to St. John of the Cross (Ascent of Mount Carmel XI.4). Even a monk who has renounced property and riches can cling to a trifle like a knife, pencil, pin or pen, according to John Cassian, a fourth-century monk (Conferences I.VI). The size of an attachment is unimportant; what matters is purity of heart. A heart that is unattached, not only to material things but even to intangibles like ideas and opinions is truly free and untrammeled.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
St. Paul summed up the path of salvation with one word: love. The invitation to the rich young man to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus would have availed him nothing without love: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3).
Love trumps poverty and even martyrdom. God, for whom all things are possible, is love. Attachments keep us from union with God as they build walls around the self and impede communion. A single resentment is a heavy camel. Only the grace and love of the Holy Spirit can burn the last thread that ties us down.
Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?”
Jesus, the Son of David and promised Messiah, was expected to establish political dominion on earth for Israel. Peter’s question arose from a centuries-old Semitic mindset that persisted even until the Ascension when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
The imagery is thoroughly Semitic, complete with thrones and a perfect twelve to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve appears in Revelation several times as well: twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundations of the city wall, and the twelve names of the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:12-14). The “woman clothed with the sun” wears a crown of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1). Twelve signified perfection and completion.
The long-suffering journey of the twelve tribes down the centuries, filled with wars and strife as well as prophecies and wonders, ended with Christ on the Cross. He is the gate to the Promised Land. His Ascension left no question that the dominion hoped for by Israel was “not of this world.” The kingdom imagery impressed upon the disciples was a hint of a transcendent reality in a “new world” or a “new age.”
The indivisible nature of theandric communion will render concerns about rank and privilege void. Any trace of “What’s in it for us?” in Peter’s question was counterbalanced by Jesus’ enigmatic words: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” The very thought of privilege is a wedge between self and other, a division which has no reality in the Trinity. Jesus, though he was the Son of God, did not lord it over others.
“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”
Jesus’ description of radical discipleship called for detachment from home and hearth—an alien concept for Hebrew culture. The Essenes (an ascetical Jewish sect) and St. John the Baptist came closest to the description by their voluntary poverty, celibacy and austerity. But for the majority of Jews, religious obedience held the promise of prosperity and material abundance (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The story of Job concluded with the twofold restoration of home and hearth. Jesus’ hundredfold—an imperishable and eternal home and hearth—infinitely exceeds Job’s recompense.
Those who have responsibilities in a family and home can still heed the words of radical discipleship. Every time we empty ourselves of ego and possessiveness, we help the human family in Christ grow as his indivisible, theandric Body. This is our hundredfold which begins here and now. As we are one, no thought, word or action is inconsequential. Detaching with love from even a trifling pen or unnecessary word can move mountains and transform hearts. The borders of our home extend to the ends of the earth by the smallest kindness.
Equality requires an external standard measure. For example, X is equal to Y in length, taking either X or Y as the standard. If Z is equal to X, it is also equal to Y.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are absolutely diverse, having nothing outside the Godhead (not even its nature), and therefore neither equal nor unequal.
So what is going on when we say that the divine persons are “equal”? The mind performs an operation by dissecting the divinity from Father, Son and Holy Spirit and creates the following equations:
Father = God Son = God Holy Spirit = God Therefore, Father = Son = Holy Spirit
Conceptualizing equality sets each person and the extracted divine nature on opposite sides of a balance. “God” becomes the external standard or measure for the three persons. Three diverse entities equal to a fourth (the standard) results in equality of the diversities. The mind divides in order to unite.
Such dissections are not real, of course, but only mental. The measuring mind has no other recourse in the struggle to express realities that are beyond spacetime. The concept of equality is cut from the cloth of material extension.
The shortcoming of this mental gymnastic is that it collapses the absolute distinction between person and nature; nature is extracted as a medium between persons to equalize absolute diversities. In consequence, absolute diversity of persons is attenuated and “mixed” with the absolute identity of nature. Diversity is “diluted” by identity.
Thus, equality and inequality cancel each other out:
Father = Son = Holy Spirit Father ≠ Son ≠ Holy Spirit
A deeper question arises: what drives the desire to equalize persons? The very drive to equalize reveals an underlying assumption that diversity alone does not unify; that diversity is inherently prone to hierarchy and subordination. One of the early Trinitarian heresies was called “Subordinationism.”
This perception is an assumption drawn from material experience. In the ancient Greek mind, diversity in the universe was either vertical or horizontal, neither of which accounted for the reality of persons.
On a vertical ladder, all beings in the universe were diverse on account of inequality. From the lowest being to the highest, each species occupied a unique rung on the ladder, e.g., a rock, rose, and rhinoceros.
On a horizontal plane, multiple individuals of the same species or form differed by being limited by matter, e.g., three distinct roses of the same rose form. (In Aristotelian terms, each “substance” or rose was a distinct form/matter composition).
Persons in the Trinity are not diverse forms or species, for that would lead to subordinationism and hierarchy. Persons in the Trinity are also not individuals of a form, for individual substances are not unique identities.
The Trinity introduces an entirely new reality beyond Greek metaphysics. Communion of persons is the only reality in which diversity and identity are absolute, simultaneous, unlinked (not co-ordinated), and indivisible. In all other cases, diversity and identity are inextricably bound to one another in a dyadic conceptual structure (act/potency, form/matter, substance/accident). A rock, rose and rhino occupy ascending degrees of being, the fundamental unifier of diversities in medieval metaphysics. Rose A, B and C differ by being individuals outside one another, participating in the same form.
Persons are neither degrees nor participants of anything. Diversity simply is. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. “God” is not a form or essence that is divided or shared. Neither is “humanity” a form or essence that is divided or shared. Each human person is the whole humanity. Salvation hinges on this point, for if the second person of the Trinity did not assume humanity in its entirety, only the particle of humanity that was Jesus of Nazareth, considered as an individual substance, was saved.
Persons and nature interpenetrate indivisibly. Mutual indwelling or perichoresis is “divided indivisibly” (St. Gregory of Nazianzus).
Diversity is not founded on anything outside itself; it is a primordial “given”—the first truth of reality which is the Trinity. The first truth and cornerstone is simultaneously a unity. Triad and monad are primordial and cannot be collapsed into one. Triad is not grounded in monad, nor is monad grounded in triad. The Trinity is groundless. Thus it transcends all analogies, including the analogy of being which is dyadic in structure (existence/essence). Absolute diversities transcend the “ground of being.”
The dyad has no place in the Triad Monad; the dyad exists only as a theological construct, e.g., “Triad Monad” and “person nature.” Thought is inescapably dyadic. The original dyad of thinker and thought is the first remove from primordial reality. The Trinity is not “thought thinking itself” (Aristotle’s definition of God).
The concept of equality need not intervene when this reality is realized. Among persons diversity is neither inherently unequal nor hierarchical.
The Trinity casts a new, mind-bending light on the totality of reality encompassed by persons in communion. Grammar does not have the power to express this reality, but here are a few attempts to summarize this analysis:
Equality is divided; absolute diversity is united.
Equality is divisible; absolute diversity is indivisible.
Equality separates; absolute diversity is inseparable.
All of these summations of absolute diversity are consonant with the fourth-century insight of St. Gregory of Nazianzus that the Trinity is “indivisibly divided” or “divided indivisibly.”
“Separate but equal” was a failed political doctrine once used to justify segregation in the United States (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896). Better than “all men are created equal,” persons are created absolutely diverse and one, beyond comparison and measurement. As in the Trinity, no ranking exists among persons who are utterly unique and therefore incomparable. As each human person is the whole humanity in the image of the Incarnate Son, no person is greater or less than any other.
The task of theology entails the hazard of dividing the indivisible in order to say something about it. Creeds and Councils have done their utmost to express the inexpressible with limited concepts, so with devotion we rightly profess that “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty… In this Trinity, there is nothing greater, nothing less than anything else: But all three persons are coeternal and coequal with one another” (Athanasian Creed).
A new consciousness unconditioned by spacetime is required to “see” reality by being neither inside nor outside it, but in union and communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such a state transcends vision and sight, subject and object, knowledge and love as we now know it.
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay each according to his conduct.
How does one reconcile this statement about proportional payment with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard?
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. [And] he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you.Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? [Or] am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Contradictory images are an indication that the reality to which they point exceeds their sign power; they are hints of a beyond which words cannot encompass.
What happens if word-images about realities beyond spacetime are taken literally?
Both passages in Matthew use the image of payment or wages, a notion derived from economics: employees receive money in return for services rendered. What is the purpose of this image? In the first case, the wages are variable, and in the second invariable.
The notion of unequal payments or distribution of goods presupposes a finite quantity. Such a quantity cannot be uncreated or divine. Therefore, if this image is taken literally, heavenly glory involves a created, finite, divisible good. Something created is superadded or sandwiched between humanity and divinity, the created and uncreated.
In the parable of the “Good Employer,” as some call it, the pay scale is disregarded and each worker receives the same salary (a denarius) regardless of length of service. The employer is a poor capitalist and seems to be ignorant of the profit motive, resulting in complaints. He takes the focus away from the laborer and his work to the employer himself. “I am generous,” he says. The Greek original of verse 15 reads, “Is your eye evil (or envious) because I am generous?”
If there is one theme that stands out in Jesus’ overall teaching, it is purity of heart. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)
The grumbling laborers have a divided heart, split between “mine” and “thine.” The parable is not ultimately about economics, in which the employer’s business would fail miserably, but about eternal union and communion in the Trinity.
A single eye and a pure heart sees that the only “reward” is the Giver himself; any gift outside of the Giver could only be created and finite. What is created and finite is humanity itself, which has been wholly immolated by Christ on the Cross.
The spiritual life is like a classroom of young children. A teacher can motivate students by offering prizes and rewards, but the most mature are those who do what is right without seeking reward or attention. Saints like Thérèse of Lisieux preferred to be hidden and unknown. “Crowns” do not intensify the eternal and infinite joy of communion in the Trinity. Verbs such as “add,” “increase” and “intensify” come from the material realm. The new consciousness will no longer be able to cogitate such concepts, just as a 3-dimensional sphere cannot operate like a 2-dimensional circle.
So what is the point of the first saying? Since it follows the exhortation to self-denial and taking up one’s cross, it is a motivation to persevere like children running for a prize. St. Paul uses similar imagery (I Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14).
In the parable of the Good Employer, hired servants driven by the profit motive gradually mature into sons and daughters of the Father who live and act out of their royal identity. Being takes precedence over having or gaining.
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?” (Matthew 20:13)
The Good Employer addresses his workers as “friends.” He invites the “first” and the “last” alike to receive the joy of union and communion in the Trinity. When the Trinity is all in all, ordinal numbers and sequence will no longer be thinkable.
“All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).
Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the last of the biblical theophanies, unfolded the deepest secret of divinity hidden from Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Horeb.
Unlike the Old Testament theophanies, in which God spoke to his prophet one on one, or “face to face,” three witnesses were present on Mount Tabor. The first peculiarity of this mountain theophany was its communal aspect. Jesus took a trinity of disciples, Peter, James and John, his inner circle.
And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
A trinity of mortals suddenly found themselves beholding a trinity of prophets in the dazzling light of the transfigured Christ. Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah), exchanged greetings with his predecessors.
James and John were speechless, but Peter felt compelled to say or do something, anything.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
“He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified,” Mark reported (9:6). Peter was ready to take charge of the situation, though he barely understood what was happening. His instinct for hospitality came forth spontaneously as he offered to house Jesus and his illustrious companions. Jesus was, after all, his house guest.
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said,“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
“The heavens are my throne, the earth, my footstool. What house can you build for me? Where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)
The same voice that spoke to Isaiah now spoke out of the cloud, but it was no longer solitary. The God of Isaiah who could not be confined in houses made by human hands has a Son! With the Father and the Son, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was also present in the light of glory.
This was the second time the son of a carpenter from Nazareth was addressed by the Father as “my beloved Son.” The first time was at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (Mark 1:11).
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.
The traditional icon above portrays Peter on the left, kneeling, John in the center falling prostrate with his back to the light, and James knocked backward in awe.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
The unearthly light disappeared, but what an unforgettable experience! It would seem that anyone who witnessed Jesus in such blazing glory should have had enough confidence to stand fast with him in the garden of Gethsemane. But that was not so. And perhaps that was why Jesus ordered silence.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The Cross was the pivot between two extremes. The mortality of the Cross stood as crux between the glory of incorruptible divinity on Mount Tabor, and the glory of incorruptible humanity at the resurrection. The infinite and the finite, divinity and humanity, entered into incorruptible, inseparable, indivisible glory in the multi-personal unity of the Trinity three days after the crucifixion.
Whereas Moses and Elijah only knew God as monad, and therefore spoke to him as a bride to a bridegroom, the marriage of humanity and divinity opened the way to a communion of persons transcending the marriage of two natures. At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John, a trinity of disciples, received a foretaste of the multi-personal communion of saints in Trinitarian Light.
Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The way of the Cross is paved with losses one after the other. In searching for the pearl of great price, illusion after illusion peels away until we arrive at the dimensionless core: nada. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it (Job 1:21).
Losing our life to find it is essentially giving up what was never ours to begin with. Not a breath or a heartbeat is our own achievement. We are, at bottom, ex nihilo—created out of nothing. At the border between being and non-being the mind disappears into a cloud of unknowing and can see no further, as Ultimate Reality lies beyond the dyad of thinker and thought.
If the possessive pronoun “mine” is really an illusion, we are simply stewards of time, life, relationships and circumstances. Each person is dealt a certain set of cards to be played in a limited space of time.
We did not choose our parents, culture, epoch, blood type, height, race, gender, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Our individual selves in this world are fragments of Adam, borrowed elements for the exercise of our personal freedom in this journey to our eternal Source. Returning in Christ to the Father, we become whole and distinct persons, possessing in common the union of all fragments as our own Body. What is possessed by all is possessed by none. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).
Familial ties belong to our fragmented, biological condition. Persons transcend and encompass all tribes, cultures, nations and tongues. Even the biological role of the Blessed Virgin Mary was provisional and limited to her earthly sojourn. In communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mary is an indescribably glorious person transcending the root of Jesse and the Davidic line.
To the woman who said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27) In no way was Jesus diminishing the role of Mary—the Theotokos was the exemplar of all those who “hear the word of God and keep it”—but her physical motherhood was put into perspective. Neither Jesus nor Mary are Jews in heaven, but persons transcending all cultures. From Our Lady of Guadalupe to Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Fatima to the Black Madonna, Mary is Mother to all nations and races.
Apparitions to humankind necessarily use forms and names in order to reach our limited mode of knowing. Communion in the Trinity transcends the dyad of motherhood and fatherhood, but we are like children being gathered into the bosom of the Father.
Divine love gives parents, children, siblings and friends the freedom to follow Christ wherever he wants to lead them. Clinging to our loved ones and boxing them in to satisfy our own needs is against reality. A child born into the world is not ours, but the Father’s. By letting go, we flow with the grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father.
Spiritual motherhood and fatherhood are universal: we may offer a “cup of cold water” to Christ’s “little ones” anytime, anywhere, opening our hearts to the family without boundaries.
Jesus’ fame as a healer spread far and wide in Palestine, attracting not only lepers but foreigners like the Roman centurion. Jews did not associate with either group; one was “unclean,” the other was “Gentile.” Both were sources of defilement.
Jesus tore down walls of division by his compassion towards all people regardless of race, gender, physical and psychological condition, or social status. He must have felt an affinity for the centurion who showed such an unusual compassion for his servant, for under Roman law slaves were classified with tools and chattel. An infirm slave was considered disposable. As the noble centurion reached across social boundaries to help his fellow man, Jesus transcended racial boundaries and offered to go to his Gentile home—a transgression of Jewish law— and heal his servant.
The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion’s declaration of faith astounded Jesus. The Roman did not know Christ as the Son of God, but ascribed divine power and authority to him, intuiting by his spirit that Jesus could heal at a distance.
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.
The racially exclusive court of heaven suddenly widened to include Gentiles in Jesus’ vision of the eternal Kingdom. The presumed heirs may find themselves disinherited, Jesus warned. Heaven is not a national birthright, but the universal communion of the faithful.
After the leper and the centurion, Jesus returned to Peter’s house where he was staying and healed a third person of marginalized status in Israel—a woman. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve him as soon as she was healed of her fever.
Jesus’ love knew no bounds as he healed every disease and infirmity. God had truly come in the flesh to reveal the secret of heaven: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11).
As wonderful as miracles are, Jesus wanted above all to lead his people to faith in his Father: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Jesus admonished (John 4:48). He stood immovably silent in the presence of the sensation-seeking Herod (Luke 23:8-9).
The healing of body, soul and spirit in this world is a sign of the world to come when all divisions in the Body of Christ will be healed and brought to union and communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the miracle of miracles.
Humans are the oddest creatures on the planet. The account of Naboth’s stoning is odd from beginning to end.
King Ahab tried to strike a deal with his neighbor Naboth to acquire his vineyard, which was next to his palace. He was refused and went home dejected. Ahab lived in splendor. Why did he need to increase his property?
Jezebel assumed that a potentate has the right to take the property of another. Might makes right. Her spiritual discernment was dulled to the point of insensitivity by layers of power politics, materialism, and brutality. With impunity she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and he didn’t even bother to inquire about her specific plans. From wallowing in self-pity to being led along by Jezebel in her schemes, Ahab proved himself utterly passive and languid.
Naboth’s fellow citizens were exceedingly odd. A letter arriving with Ahab’s seal directing them to “get two scoundrels” to falsely accuse Naboth and stone him to death was carried out without a single voice of protest.
The same mob mentality that crucified Christ was at work in these false accusations. The same absence of personal consciousness animated the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and other mob atrocities. Countless rulers in history have waged war to seize territories not their own, or increase their wealth beyond rational limits. Something deeply irrational lies at the root of these destructive behaviors.
In mass scapegoating, advertising, and other instances of artificially manufactured desires, humans behave almost as automatons—following the lead of another, and another, until collective desire reaches such a pitch as to become unstoppable.
The revelation of the Trinity liberates persons from the cage of relativity in which individuals look to the left and right to get their cues for how to think and behave. Humans are imitative, according to one theory (René Girard’s mimetic theory). Copycat behavior stems from a lack of interiority and conviction.
An anthropology based on the Trinity offers the richest and most satisfying solution to the collective ills of humanity. The absolute diversity of persons in Trinitarian communion satisfies the innate desire to possess or be, singly or uniquely. The desire of individuals to stand out or possess “more than” someone else (envy) is quelled by the truth that each and every person is unique and unrepeatable. Persons transcend relativity by the very fact of absolute diversification.
At the same time, the absolute identity of persons in communion, in which the whole, deified human nature is possessed by each, satisfies the innate desire to be complete in every way.
Envy was the sin identified by Jesus and even Pontius Pilate as the chief motivation for the mob crucifixion of Christ. The final end of the Cross is life in the Trinity. For that life, we must die to our individual selves and selfish desires and become whole persons animated by the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled persons do not look to the left or right for their moral compass, but are guided from within, by the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father.
The revolutionary teaching of Christ to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” radically subverts individual, self-protecting instincts. Risky, to be sure, but love is the ultimate risk. The Son of God staked everything for love of us to bring us home to the Father. We are free to accept or reject that love.
The Chinese Bible translates Logos (Word) in the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel as Tao (literally, the Way)—the universal and transcendent guiding principle in the cosmos. The “ten thousand things” is an expression that means everything that exists.
“The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. The ten thousand things depend upon it; it holds nothing back. It fulfills its purpose silently and makes no claim.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter 34 Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English
“You are the light of the world”—a torch lit by the transfiguring Light of the Trinity. All things seen in this Light reveal hidden mysteries beyond our cosmic frame of reference.
The story of Elijah and the widow opens a window onto eternity. The poor woman is appointed by God to take care of Elijah’s needs because his brook had run dry, but she is at the end of her rope. She has the heart to do all she can for the prophet, but reality stares her in the face. Her cupboard is empty except for “a handful of flour” and “a little oil.” She and her son are about to die, she tells Elijah.
Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
The miracle of the self-replenishing jar and jug is a snapshot of life in the Trinity, where Persons are always empty yet always full. On earth individuals live a “balanced” life divided between self-care and care for others. If we do not take time to be alone, eat, sleep and recuperate, we “burn out.” Giving and receiving in the earthly condition entails energy loss. In the Trinity, however, solitude (unique distinction) and communion (mutual indwelling of diverse persons) are simultaneous without any loss.
How is this so? Each person is whole and entire, not a part of a whole. In ultimate reality there is no such thing as “coordination,” which is a harmonious functioning of parts. The Trinity is Whole-Whole-Whole, not a harmony.
“The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God,” the Athanasian creed states. Each Divine Person is the Whole Divinity. Each human person is the whole humanity. Persons of the deified humanity in Christ are brought into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is nothing in the spacetime continuum that can serve as an example because all things in material extension are in a condition of parts outside of parts. Nothing escapes it except persons, who transcend it. Individuals in time exhibit all the properties of parts. Individuals coordinate, cooperate, subordinate, etc. A close examination of language, which is linked to matter, reveals the fact. The prefix co- of coordinate means “together” or “jointly,” indicating a harmony of parts. Persons are not coordinated or subordinated, but Wholes dwelling in Wholes in a condition Jesus calls angelic (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25).
Because absolute diversity and absolute identity (oneness) are simultaneous without coordination, subordination, or any kind of “connection” between the two, they are always in mint condition without loss. There is no balancing act in the realm of personal communion. There are no scales or measures. There is no gain or loss. There is no burn out. Diversity and unity are complete, whole, absolute, and without mixture. Not even a preposition connects them: “the Three One God,” in the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 40.41).
Ultimate reality exceeds the limits of thought which is inextricably tied to matter. To think is an action in time. There is a beginning and an end to a process of thought. Logical strings and logarithms, musical scores and poetic meters—any kind of thought requires time. Time is inseparable from space and matter. Therefore thought itself vanishes in ultimate communion where the Trinity is “all in all.”
Diversity is preserved in communion without spatial dimension and separation. In spacetime, diversity requires a condition of parts outside of parts. The properties demonstrated by Jesus’ resurrected body, however, indicate that spiritualized matter has some of the qualities we now attribute to mind. For example, while in New York we can think of California and travel there mentally. A spiritualized body may be able to pop here and there instantaneously, at the “speed of thought,” to use a limping figure. (How can there be speed beyond spacetime?)
The widow’s jar is a figure of persons—jars of clay containing the infinite treasure of the Triple Light. “Let light shine out of darkness… to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).
“In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20), Jesus promised. In the Trinity, the Light of Three Faces will shine upon us and we will rejoice “more than when grain and wine abound” (Psalm 4:7).
May the salt of divine grace season our hearts and minds, and may the Light of the All-Holy Trinity shine in us that the world may glorify the heavenly Father.