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Deacon-structing the Number Three

June 11, 2017
Today's Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity is making me think, of course, of God and the number three. I am also remembering a segment I recorded with our webmaster, Billy Chan for the SLHour on the number three (listen to the whole segment below).

The number three is perfect.

That's what Billy, as a mathematician said. We also know that, along with seven, twelve and forty, three is an important biblical number and a spiritually perfect numeral.
In fact, the number three is used 467 times in the Bible.
In some cases the number three signifies completeness or finality. Those of us who write and produce stories know that every good story has three parts: a beginning, middle and end. So the number three suggests the idea of completeness.

Lots of things come in threes:

  • Israel has three "Fathers": Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Exodus 3:6 and Matthew 22:32).
  • Noah has three sons (Genesis 6:10) and Job has three daughters (Job 1:2; 42:13)
  • God appears to Abraham and Sarah as three angels (Genesis 18:1-15)
  • Abraham is going to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on the third day of his journey to Moriah (Genesis 22:4).
  • Jonah spends three days in the belly of the fish (Jonah 1:17). Jonah also takes a three day journey across the city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:3).
  • Mary visits Elizabeth and stays for three months (Luke 1:56).
  • The wise men bring three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).
  • Jesus is missing from his parents for three days when He is 12 years old (Luke 2:41-50).
  • Jesus is tempted three times in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).
  • Jesus prays three times in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest (Matthew 26:36-46).
  • Peter denies Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62) and confesses his love to him three times (John 21:15-19).
  • Jesus is placed on the cross at the third hour of the day (9am) and died at the ninth hour, which is 3pm (Mark 15:25-37. Matthew and Luke say same about Jesus dying at 3pm).
This is my favourite: There are 27 books in the New Testament. That is 3x3x3: Completeness to the third power!

Even in other faiths, the number three is important.

Last week I learned that there are three principal Hindu gods:
  • Brahma, who creates the universe.
  • Vishnu, who preserves the universe.
  • Shiva, who destroys the universe.
I also learned that in Islam, three is also important:
  • Allah, who is god.
  • Allah's prophet.
  • Allah's creation.

All good things come in threes and God also comes in three.

Perhaps the most tell-tale hints of the three-ness of God are from Isaiah, "And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3) and from Revelation, "Day and night they never stop saying: "'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,' who was, and is, and is to come" (Revelation 4:8). Why is God three-times holy?
Jesus also tells the disciples to baptise in the name of the "Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19) and St. Paul ends his second letter to the Corinthians by wishing that the "grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" be with them all (2 Corinthians 13:14).

God is one God; three persons.

But we have to be careful about that. There is one God; three persons. It's not three different gods, or three phases or faces of God. It's also not three qualities or expressions of God. It is one God; three persons. Each person is completely distinct from the other, yet fully God. At the same time, each person is completely united to the other, completely and fully God. May be hard to understand in full, but not impossible to understand in part.
We can understand it because we understand relationship and we experience love.
If God is love, then God can’t be alone. You can’t be love in isolation. If God is love, it makes sense that God is a relationship; a community of persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is a living, dynamic, loving, relationship, community of love between three persons who continually, eternally are outpouring themselves into each other and receiving the outpouring of each other into themselves.
God is a community. God is relationship. God is family because God is love: the lover, the beloved and the love they share: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It's true, all good things come in threes!
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Image: Hospitality of Abraham, Via Latina Catacomb, c. 300AD

pedro
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

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