This Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, has a unique emphasis—the focus is on a teaching instead of an aspect of Jesus’ life. It is known as Trinity Sunday. And I have often emphasized that the Trinity is not to be understood; it is to be believed.
This year, the Gospel text is from the third chapter of the Gospel according to John, Jesus’ talk with Nicodemus. When we think of that text, we, of course, think of John 3:16, and there is talk about believing in that text. But there is a context to that text. And, I think, it is a helpful context as well.
At the end of chapter two, the topic of ‘believing’ is brought up in three successive verses. But its use goes back even farther. And there is an important connection of believing between this gospel account’s beginning and ending. At the end of chapter one, Jesus remarks of Nathanael that he believes because he sees a small thing, but he will certainly see greater things (also, at the beginning of chapter two, after a miracle, the text says that Jesus’ disciples believed in him). And, at the end of the account, Jesus blesses those who have not seen and yet have believed.
So, right before the text for this Sunday, at the end of the previous chapter, it says that the disciples ‘believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (2:22).’ And the very end of the chapter has two more occurrences of the word, given in a somewhat unusual form:
‘Now when [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.’
On the part of the people, many believed in his name. On the part of Jesus, he did not believe or entrust himself to them.
This use of ‘entrust’ is obviously rare. And, oddly enough, it also has an extremely similar use in the Apocrypha. The text talks about the situation of the Jews a couple centuries before Jesus was born, and it may be helpful to see the similarities and differences to the above text. In 1 Maccabees 8:15-16, the text says this concerning the Romans, that
‘they have built for themselves a senate chamber, and every day 320 senators constantly deliberate concerning the people, to govern them well. They trust [or ‘entrust’] one man each year to rule over them and to control all their land; they all heed the one man, and there is no envy or jealousy among them.’
This is obviously a glowing and biased report of what the Romans were doing. And I cannot help but think of how great a Roman ruler Jesus would have been if he were in that situation. And that also makes me think of the verse in John where, after the miracle of the loaves and fish, and the people wanted to make Jesus a king; but he left. He wanted to be their king in another way.
Jesus knew what was in man. Those are the last few words of John 2. And then we hear of Nicodemus, who was a ruler of the Jews, and, not only that, but he was a Pharisee as well—usually the Sadducees were the rulers—a Pharisee as a ruler is rare! And Jesus is a bit difficult with him, but that is completely understandable. ‘He himself knew what was in man.’ That is why he stayed to do his John 3:16 job.