top of page

08.23.2020 Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

Bartolome Esteban Murillo


The Trinity and Holy Family

National Gallery


Murillo was one of the leading artists in seventeenth-century Spain, surpassed in his lifetime only by Velázquez. Both artists were from Seville, but their temperament, careers and critical success could hardly have been more different. Velázquez spent the greater part of his life at court in Madrid. Murillo remained in Seville, painting mainly religious subjects for pious foundations; his death was the result of a fall from a scaffold in the Capuchin church in Cadiz.

In 1649 half the population of Seville died in the plague; there was a popular uprising in 1652. As the world about him sank further into grim despair, it was not sentimentality but heroism which impelled Murillo to cloak his painted world in clouds of incense and of roses. The visitor who flinches from uplifted eyes and pink-cheeked cherubs should perhaps first focus on the firm drawing of the hands, here masterfully foreshortened and individually characterised in eloquent communion. The artist's impeccable draughtsmanship, at first sight concealed under the 'vaporous' brushwork of his late style, influenced by Rubens and Van Dyck, is the visible sign of his underlying stoicism.

Murillo had treated the subject of the Two Trinities before, early in his career, when he depicted the Holy Family returning from the Temple (Luke 2:51). The compositions of both pictures derive from sixteenth-century engravings made for Jesuit devotional books by the Flemish Wierix brothers.

These images, designed to appeal to a broad lay audience, stressed the humble labours of the Holy Family, and glorified Saint Joseph, carpenter, protector of the Virgin and earthly father of Christ. As God the Father, the dove of the Holy Spirit and Christ form the Celestial Trinity, so Mary, Joseph and Jesus mirror them on earth in a Terrestrial Trinity.

In this painting, probably commissioned as an altarpiece, Joseph - the only character directly to address us - holds the flowering rod, sign of God's will that he become Mary's husband. The Christ Child is raised on a dressed stone, both a compositional device to set him at the apex of a triangle in the centre of the painting and symbolic: 'Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion ... a precious corner stone, a sure foundation' (Isaiah 28:16). As the clouds part to reveal the divine light, their shadows temper the bold red and ultramarine blue, the apricots, pinks, gold and white of the highlights to a wonderful overall harmony, a haze of grey, sky-blue and saffron.


The Context

Paul, the traveller and Roman citizen, had still not been to Rome when this Letter was written (about 57 AD).

He had made three prolonged and extensive journeys, pioneering the Christian message throughout the Eastern Provinces of the Empire and establishing Churches. Probably in Corinth, about to take the money he had collected to Jerusalem (see on Acts 20), Paul felt free to turn his eyes West, to Spain. On the way he would visit the Christians in Rome. However, three weary years would elapse between the Letter and the visit, and when he eventually entered Rome it would be as a prisoner (Acts 28).

As Paul dwells on God’s glorious provision for all who are ‘in Christ’, he is filled with anguish for Israel, God’s own specially chosen and privileged people. How could they refuse to believe in their own, promised Messiah? The Gentiles responded eagerly to the Gospel, but not the Jews.

It is only by virtue of God’s patience and mercy that even a remnant of Israel survived His judgements[1]. People of other nations, knowing their failure welcomed God’s offer of acceptance through faith. The Jews, convinced they could earn salvation by keeping the Law, refused to consider it[2].


Chapter 11 of Romans ends with a beautiful hymn to Divine Wisdom. This closes the discourses started in Chapter 9-11 in which the Apostle has considered the destiny of Israel.

Paul has been talking about a New People of Israel, a new community based only in the faith on Jesus Christ, who gave up his life for all humanity. But Saint Paul was a Jew, and for him Israel had received the promises of the Old Testament and played an important role in the history of salvation. With this hymn Paul concludes the doctrinal part of the Letter to the Romans and places the destiny of his people in the mystery of God and His Divine Wisdom. The Pauline Communities took pieces of Paul’s Letters like this one to create hymns for the liturgy.

Content of the Text

This is a hymn to God and reminds us of the Book of Job[3], namely, the impotence of humankind in front of the mysterious design of history.

Meeting God in history is a mystery and no one can pretend anything from God because nobody has given God anything that s/he had not received from Him first. We have all received everything we have from God.

Neither the pagans nor the Jews are protagonists of history. The only protagonist is God and both Jews and pagans should be able to contemplate and admire God’s infinite Wisdom.

Those questions (vv. 34-35) taken from the Wisdom Literature are inspired in texts from the Scriptures[4]: nobody can put into question the absolute freedom of God who desires to save Israel and all humankind. All peoples have been saved because God has willed this.


Paul used the word ‘Amen’ to conclude his statement.

Nowadays, the term ‘Amen’ has become little more than a ritualized conclusion to prayers.

Amen’ is a transliteration of the Hebrew word ‘Amen’ [em’a]. The verb form occurs more than one hundred times in the Old Testament and means ‘to take care, to be faithful, reliable or established, or to believe someone or something’.

The idea of something that is faithful, reliable, or believable seems to lie behind the use of the word ‘Amen’ as an exclamation on no less than twenty-five solemn occasions in the Old Testament. Israel said ‘Amen’ to join in the praises of God (1 Chr. 16:36, Neh. 8:6, and at the end of each of the first four books of Psalms 41:13, 72:19, 89:52, 106:48).

Paul uses ‘Amen’ in the same way as the Old Testament writers … he uses it to seal the confession about God that he has just made. Paul confirms that God alone is the possessor of absolute power and absolute Wisdom.

In the final analysis, all of us are absolutely dependent on God. He is the source of all things, including ourselves. He is the power that sustains and rules the world that we live in and He works out all things to bring glory to Himself. The all-powerful God deserves our praise. To this, we join Paul in saying ‘Amen!’


Some things in Scripture do not need commentary, explanations, or elaboration; they just need to be spoken and believed.

We are encouraged to let these words come to our lips during times of difficulty as well as times of bounty and blessing.

We thank you, Lord,

for you always look with pity on your daughters and sons

and sent Your Only Begotten Son to deliver us from our sins

and from a world prone to turning away from You.

We thank you for Jesus Christ who reconciled us

and brought us back to You.

Thank you for in Christ

we can live with You forever.



We see God leading us through His Spirit all our days.

God brings to our mind the truth of the Gospel and its implications for what we will encounter in our lives.

We tell God ‘Yes’ to His will and ask Him for His power and protection to live this “Yes.”

We ask God to create and reveal opportunities to proclaim the Good News.

“To him be glory forever! Amen.” Soli Deo Gloria!:

· With a Soli Deo Gloria! Paul draws his arguments to a close. In saying this, he calls on all Christians to trust instead of trying to find fault with the mysteries of God, and rather to adore them.

· We give glory to God for what He has revealed to us in his Word for our eternal salvation.

· We give glory to God for his secret and hidden Love and Wisdom. Even if this Wisdom is hidden from us for the time being, we are still convinced that it is great, sublime, holy, divine, and worthy of adoration.

· The Soli Deo Gloria! will indeed resound from our mouth even fuller and louder when the veil has fallen, when the whole counsel of God lies bare and uncovered before our eyes in the life to come.


[1] Rom. 9:22-29: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they shall be called children of the living God. And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.’ And as Isaiah predicted, ‘If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.’” [2] Rom. 9:31-32: “But Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone.” [3] Job 35:7: “If you are righteous, what do you give to Him; or what does He receive from your hand? [4] Isa. 40:13: “Who has directed the spirit of the Lord, or as his counsellor has instructed him?” Job 41:1-3: “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord? Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook? Will it make many supplications to you? Will it speak soft words to you?”

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page