During Easter we focused on the passion, death and resurrection of the Son; during Pentecost we will focus on the transforming work of the Paraclete. It is sometimes said, very understandably, the Holy Spirit is the most mysterious of the three persons of the Trinity. But, while emphasizing the unity and equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I often think the Father is, in his own way, just as mysterious.
Today's readings shed some light on the first Person of the Trinity, particularly on three qualities: His command, his power and his love. All three help us to appreciate more deeply the Father's plan, purpose and person.
The Father is mentioned some 130 times in John's Gospel, and one of the key themes of John's writing is the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father, Jesus states, "loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand" (3:35). "He who does not honor the Son," he preached, "does not honor the Father who sent him" (5:23). And Jesus says directly and simply: "I and the Father are one" (10:30). In today's Gospel, from the Good Shepherd discourse, Jesus makes clear he, of his own free will and volition, "will lay down my life for the sheep. ... No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own." But he also adds that this command to lay down his life was "received from my Father."
The Father's command was for the Son to become man, suffer, and die. Yet this command was not accepted unwillingly or received as an order from a superior -- after all, the Father and the Son are both fully God. This might seem strange to us since we naturally tend to think of commands as directives from a superior to a subordinate. But this way of thinking is purified and transformed by the revelation of who God is as Trinity -- an eternal exchange of perfect and personal love.
This is why Jesus states later, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" (Jn 15:10), and "This I command you, to love one another" (Jn 15:17). There is no conflict between the love of the Father and the Father's commandments, for God is love and everything from him is love. To those who are sons of the Father, the commandments are gifts of love. But to those who reject the Father, the commandments are confining, annoying, even angering.
The Father's power, Peter declared, is shown by raising the Son from the dead. "The Father's power 'raised up' Christ his Son," explains the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son's humanity, including his body, into the Trinity" (No. 648). The Father so loved the world he sent his Son, the Son became man, and the Incarnate Son -- fully God, fully man -- was taken into the Trinity.
That affirmation of the Crucified Lord and of his body brings us to John's first epistle: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God." The Triune God created man out of love, his plan of salvation flows from his love, and he desires that all men freely choose to share in his gift of boundless love. The Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection reveal and make present this perfect love.
"Although the Son is always beloved by reason of his nature," wrote Cyril of Jerusalem in his commentary on the Gospel of John, "it is evident that Christ is also beloved by God the Father because of his love toward us." The Father gives his Son, and the Son gives the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit gives us the life of the Father so we might enter eternally into the beatific vision, "the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion" (Catechism, No. 1045).
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Ignatiusinsight.com.