There are eleven disciples at the top of the mountain with Jesus, in Galilee, in their final gathering together, as Matthew tells us in his Gospel (28:16-20). Its time for Jesus to say farewell, to give his final blessing. In his words of reassurance, he asks them now to take up their cross and with trust and obedience – in the midst of doubt – to go out to the world and make disciples.
At the top of the mountain there is a different perspective, longer views to a bigger horizon, the everyday vistas are changed with shadows falling differently and the light is subtly different. Doubts shift, the impossible becomes possible and hearts are opened with the exercise; and, the possibilities emerging. The truth becomes clearer.
These final words of Jesus are often called the ‘Great Commission’ but Jesus never did describe it like this. Jesus saves the word ‘great’ for the commandment to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind (22:37). ‘This is the greatest and first commandment,’ he says, adding a second one ‘like it’, about loving your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
So why do we call this the ‘great commissioning’? Jesus gave us other commissions: to go and be reconciled to our brothers and sisters before leaving our gifts at the altar. We have been paying attention to this one during this week of National Reconciliation with Australia’s First Nations people and in particular with our local neighbours, the Kabi Kabi people.
Then what about the commission to go ‘the second mile’ (5:41); to go into our rooms, shut the doors and pray to our Father who is in secret (6:6); and to go sell our possessions and give the money to the poor (19:210) and there are others. Jesus asked us to do a number of actions and behave in particular ways; and here we are at the top of the world, hearing Jesus speak directly, face to face with the disciples, for the last time.
Doubt is ever present, but Jesus reassures us: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ (28:18). Such a statement takes our breath away. Just imagine what this authority and power could be used to provide. We love to imagine in the abstract, a world free of poverty, pain and suffering, free of violence and abuse. Into this world-changing moment, while the disciples are joyful, worshiping, doubting, hoping, Jesus says to them:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (28:19-20)
We are being asked, invited to live as Jesus lived, to commit to being God’s presence in the world. People come to God because we as disciples show Jesus’ way in our lives. Our actions and words show the God we believe in. Sometimes the way I see with others, points to a judgmental, punishing and excluding God who reflects humanity’s expectations. Such a God, made in our image, is highlighted in the way we behave.
On other occasions, people might see and hear from us, about a God who is interested in us, personally, relationally, caring and comforting, God who is a loving and healing, just God, a forgiving and reconciling God, a God who is more interested in peace than war and violence, a God who died because of love through human violence.
Where we as disciples, put our energies is where God emerges and becomes visible.
As a parish, a Church, and as a community, our way of living out Jesus’ commission to make disciples, bring people to God, and teaching and supporting people to live in God’s way as Jesus did, must be our response to God, each and every day.
According Matthew’s Jesus, making disciples means two things: firstly, baptising in the name of the Triune God; and secondly, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded. In Matthew’s Gospel, the second part of this direction promises to take a lot more time than the first one. It involves a lot more than talking.
‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven’ says Jesus in an old sermon on another mountain. ‘But only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven,’ (7:21). With this teaching, we as disciples are asked to show the nations of the world what doing the will of God looks like, not simply to talk about it, but live it, and so those still with doubts in their hearts are willing to enter the water.
There is no ascension in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’ last recorded words to his eleven disciples promises his enduring presence with them. His most comforting words are, ‘I am with you always to the end of the age’. It is as if Jesus were speaking not only to them but from the mountaintop across to all of us who are here today, because they did what he commanded. We too are asked to respond as he commands us today in this commission which has resounded through millennia to every disciple who comes to God’s table and for all of us who stand in the twelfth place on the mountain.
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2013. Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol. 2 Chapters 14-28. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.