Gospel of Sunday 21 May: Matthew 28, 16-20
Matthew 28, 16-20, Ascension of the Lord A: The Great Commission
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Also today I share with you a short meditation on the Gospel, with particular reference to the theme of mercy.
The concept of mission is perhaps in crisis today more than ever: why evangelise? Doesn’t God save everyone? Then is it not better to limit ourselves to inter-religious dialogue? And is not human promotion more urgent, in a world where billions of people suffer hunger and see their fundamental rights trampled underfoot?
Matthew 28, 16-20: The Church’s mission
And yet the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reaffirmed: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by its very nature” (Ad Gentes, no. 2); and it invited “each community… to extend the vast web of its charity to the ends of the earth, showing the same concern for those who are far away as it does for its own members” (id., no. 37).
Already during his life, Jesus had sent his own before him (Lk 10:1) to preach the Gospel and to heal (Lk 9:1): “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21).
The disciples are the labourers sent by the master to his harvest (Mt 9:38; Jn 4:38), the servants sent by the king to lead the guests to the wedding of the Son (Mt 22:3).
Once the time of Jesus is over, the time of the Church begins. Luke’s missionary project expresses the gradual expansion of the Gospel: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Paul, the great missionary, is called to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 1:16), to extend it from Israel to the nations (Rom 9-11).
At the end of the century, John makes a powerful synthesis of the mission theme in his Gospel.
In the Prologue (Jn 1), he presents the Son as the Word (dabar – logos) of the Father: “In the beginning was the Word”: if the Son is Word, transmission and inculturation are inherent in him! And this Word is for all peoples: “There came into the world the true light, that which enlightens every man”.
Symbolic of the universality of salvation are the Samaritan woman of Sicar, a figure of all those who seek God (Jn 4), the royal civil servant, an example of faith (Jn 4:46-54), the inscription on the cross in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (Jn 19:20), the “priestly” prayer of Jn 17, which it would be better to define “missionary” (“They know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ”: Jn 17:3).
Matthew 28, 16-20: “Go and make disciples of all nations”
The mission of Christians is made explicit by the Word of Jesus: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:18-20).
Some observations on this mandate: while Jesus’ mission was essentially limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24), the mission of the Church is universal.
There is a command: ‘Make disciples (Matheusate) of all nations’. “Make disciples” according to the Hebrew sense is equivalent to: “Make members of the Master’s family”.
Note well: “Matheùsate” is aorist, expressing operational dynamism, and is therefore equivalent to: “Never cease to be members of the family of God”.
The modalities of this call are then expressed with three participles (translated as gerunds in Italian): “Andando”, the properly missionary aspect, the going out to reach what Pope Francis calls “the peripheries”; “Immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, that is, first of all making all men experience the Tenderness of God; “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”, the catechetical aspect.
The aim is therefore to make disciples, that is, friends, family members of Christ, to make them adhere to his person.
Jesus is not one of many spiritual teachers, he is the Revealer of the Father, he is the Son, the Lord! Jesus is not the announcer of a doctrine, he is the “God with us” until the end of the world (Mt 28:20)!
Evangelisation by contagion
The experience of the Risen One is not something personal, something intimate: it is joy to overflow to others, it is enthusiasm that becomes contagious.
The first, true, irreplaceable task of the Christian is the transmission of faith.
Faith normally stems from ‘tradition’, that is, from the story that is passed on to all: Paul states: ‘How will they believe, without having heard of it? And how shall they hear of it, without one who proclaims it?” (Rom 10:14).
Why are we so lukewarm and timid in being missionaries? Because perhaps we have not personally encountered the Risen One, we have not had our lives changed by him, in order to be able to say like Paul: “He has also appeared to me!” (1 Cor 15:8).
The prophet is the man seized by the Word of God, invaded, possessed by it: Jeremiah will even speak of seduction (Jer 20:7); the Word becomes in him a burning fire, burning in his bones, uncontainable (Jer 20:9). We will be transmitters of the Word to the extent that we are conquered by it, in love with it.
The real problem with the proclamation of Jesus is our love for him!
Pope Francis wrote in “Evangelii gaudium”: “The intimacy of the Church with Jesus is an itinerant intimacy… Faithful to the model of the Master, it is vital that today the Church goes out to proclaim the Gospel to all, in all places, on all occasions, without delay, without repulsion and without fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all the people, it cannot exclude anyone’ (n. 24).
We all have this vocation: priests, sisters, and lay people. Paul’s admonition applies to all: “It is my duty to preach the gospel: woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16); we must all proclaim the Word “on every occasion, whether opportune or not” (2 Tim 4:2).
And if priests and consecrated persons do this ‘institutionally’, to the laity the Council says: “Every lay person must be a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God in the sight of the world” (LG 38); “The laity are especially called to make the Church present and active in those places and circumstances in which she cannot become salt of the earth except through them… It therefore falls upon all the laity the glorious burden of working so that the divine plan of salvation may reach more and more every day all people of all times and of the whole earth.
Every way should therefore be open to them so that… they too may actively participate in the salvific work of the Church’ (LG 33); ‘In this office that state of life which is sanctified by a special sacrament, that is marriage and family life, appears of great value.
The Christian family loudly proclaims the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of the blessed life…The laity, therefore, even when they are occupied with temporal cares, can and must exercise a precious action for the evangelisation of the world….; it is necessary that all co-operate in the expansion and increase of the Kingdom of Christ in the world” (LG 35).
A Church always going out
Pope Francis said: “The Church must be like God, always outgoing; and when the Church is not outgoing, it becomes sick with so many illnesses that we have in the Church.
And why these illnesses in the Church? Because it is not outgoing. It is true that when one goes out there is the danger of an accident.
But it is better an accidental Church, to go out, to proclaim the Gospel, than a Church sickened by closure.
God always goes out, because he is Father, because he loves. The Church must do the same: always going out’.
Good Mercy to all!
Anyone wishing to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.