Probably every people have realized there is a God and many of the things they realized about God were true. They sensed that the Creator was good. Actually, God was better than they thought.
In today’s first reading, Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9, the Israelites have come to Mount Sinai, where they will encounter God. The people didn’t want God to speak to them for fear that they might die so they asked Moses to speak for them.
As God passed before Moses, the Lord proclaimed “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Moses understood that God was merciful and gracious but the extent of His mercy was beyond what Moses could imagine.
Moses knew that the people could only survive their journey through the desert if God was with them. He begged God to come with them, even though the people were rebellious, “go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people and pardon our iniquity and take us for your inheritance.” We know the stories of the many times, they rebelled in the journey into the land of Canaan. Over and over, they experienced mercy.
Nevertheless, God’s goodness and mercy was more than they imagined. When St. Paul speaks of God, he speaks of “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus…” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31) and the Letter to the Ephesians blesses, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Eph 1:3).
Who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? First of all He is an intelligent and loving being. God is not some impersonal powerful force who shoots out thunder and lightning. He is not a distant God who is habitually unhappy with everything He has created.
The God of Jesus Christ is a God who loves, beginning with the Son whom He brings forth from all eternity, His only-begotten. He sees everything He has created through His love.
Jesus tells us: “The Father loves the Son” (Jn 5:12) and prays, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (Jn 17:34). The Synoptics declare the Father’s words: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Mt 3:17; Mt 17:5).
We know the Father through Jesus, who announces: “I know Him for I come from Him and He sent Me” (Jn 7:19)
According to John, Jesus makes the Father known: “No one has ever seen God, the only God, who is at the Father’s side; He has made Him known“(Jn 1:18). Matthew and Luke affirm: “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” Mt 11: 27).
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, even in Old Testament times, God spoke through His Word: “In the past, the Only Begotten Son revealed knowledge of God through the prophets, who made Him known to the extent that they shared in the eternal Word. They said things like, ‘The Word of God came to me.’ But now the Only Begotten Son has made Him known to the faithful… ‘God, who in many and varied ways, spoke to the fathers in past times through the prophets, has spoken to us in these days in His Son’ (Heb 1:1). This teaching surpasses all other teachings in dignity, authority and usefulness, because it was handed on by the Only Begotten Son, who is first Wisdom” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 221).
Today’s Gospel presents a beloved passage on the Son’s revelation of the Father: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn 2:16-17).
Thomas comments on our experience of God’s love: “The cause of all our good is the Lord and divine love. For to love is … to will good to someone. Therefore, since the will of God is the cause of things, good comes to us because God loves us. And God’s love is the cause of the good of nature … It is also the cause of the good which is grace: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, and so I have drawn you’ i.e. through grace (Jer 31:3)” (Commentary on John, 477).
Thomas notes the words of St. Gregory, “The proof of love is given by action.” Thomas comments: “It is God who loves and loves immeasurably …God has given us the greatest of gifts, His only Begotten Son” (Commentary on John, 477).
Similarly, in his Summa Theologiae, Thomas asserts: “Of all the gifts which the Father gave to humanity… the chief is that He gave His Son” (Ia2ae, 102, 3) and “The Son is given from the Father’s love” (1a. 38, 2, ad 1).
Jesus reveals the Father’s love for the world and His desire to save all who believe in Him. Jesus tells us about the Father who rushes out to embrace the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32).
Jesus Himself reveals the Father, as He informs the apostle Thomas: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.” (Jn 14:7). Aquinas explains: “Every created word is some likeness of the Word, and some likeness, though imperfect, of the divinity is found in every thing, either as an image or a trace … It is the Word alone, the only-begotten Word, which is a perfect word and a perfect image of the Father, that knows and comprehends the Father” (Commentary on John, 1879).
Jesus’ whole human existence reveals the Father’s desire for us. Paul tells us that Jesus emptied Himself and took the nature of a servant. Luke tells us that the Son of God was born in the humblest circumstances. Matthew tells us that His life was threatened even as a child.
Jesus resisted any attempts to make Him king and played down His role as the Messiah because He did not want to buy into the popular notions of a warrior Messiah. Instead, He announced: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Likewise, He insisted: “I am in the midst of you, as one who serves” (Lk 23:27).
On the night before He died, He washed the feet of His disciples. Could even Moses have imagined such love from God?
And of course, the greatest testimony to God’s love for us was Jesus’ death on the Cross, this defeat of evil through love and submission to His Father. Paul asserts: “God shows His love for us because when we were still sinners … Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). St. Thomas comments: “We know [by Christ’s Passion] how much God loves us and we are stirred to love Him in return, and there lies the perfection of human salvation” (3a. 46, 3).
Writing early in the third century, Tertullian tells us that some people rejected Christianity because the Christians proclaimed a crucified man as God’s Son. Paul affirms: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:27).
Thomas explains: “Something divine seems to be foolish, not because it lacks wisdom but because it exceeds human wisdom …And ‘the weakness of God is stronger than men,’ because something in God is not called weak on account of lack of strength but because it exceeds human power, just as He is called invisible, inasmuch as He transcends human sight … This could refer to the mystery of the Incarnation, because that which is regarded as foolish and weak in God on the part of the nature He assumed transcends all wisdom and power” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 62).
Moses had to climb a mountain to encounter God. Through Jesus the Father gives us His Spirit to dwell within us, guiding us by grace. Jesus announced to His disciples: “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).
Thomas explains the role of the Spirit enabling us to understand:
“Just as the effect of the mission of the Son was to lead us to the Father, so the effect of the mission of the holy Spirit is to lead the faithful to the Son. The Son, since He is begotten Wisdom, is Truth itself … And so the effect of this kind of mission [of the Spirit] is to make us sharers in the divine wisdom and knowers of the truth. The Son, since He is the Word, gives teaching to us; but the Holy Spirit enables us to grasp it” (Commentary on John, 1958).
The Spirit makes it possible for us to comprehend what Jesus tells us:
“No matter what a person may teach by his exterior actions, he will have no effect unless the holy Spirit is present to the heart of the listener, the words of the teacher will be useless … This is true even to the extent that the Son Himself, speaking by means of His human nature, is not successful unless He works from within by the Holy Spirit” (Commentary on John, 1958).
We are all indebted to the preaching of St. Peter and St. Paul. Yet, after his denial of Jesus, Peter knew his weakness very well. Paul asked the Lord to take away a particular weakness he experiences, which he called a “sting of the flesh,” he was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:8-9).
We are strong because we have “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor 13:13). St. Thomas reflects: “The grace of Christ, by which we are made just and are saved; the charity of God the Father, by which we are united with Him; and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit distributing divine gifts to us” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 545).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, give the part of the Summa, the question and the article.. If the reference is a reply to an objection that had been raised earlier, the reference will offer “ad…” with the number of the objection.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Part I, may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fr. Fabian Larcher, O.P., Albany, NY: Magi Books, 1980.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of John, Part II, may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentaries on First and Second Corinthians are taken from the translations of Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation, found in Volume 38 of the Biblical Commentaries, was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012