Gospel (A): Matthew 28:16-20

Make Disciples!

Are you task oriented? Do you make yourself a list to judge the success of your day?

Work creates stress. But it also creates satisfaction. Some people live for a job well done. Most people love to be productive and pride themselves on carrying out a job with confident success.

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus gave his followers a job: make disciples. The task ahead might have discouraged his followers. But the power of his word and promise of his presence washed away any hesitation on their part.

Popular Translation

16 The eleven followers went to the mountain in Galilee where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw Jesus, they worshiped him. But, some still had doubts. 18 When Jesus came closer, he said to them, "My Father gave me power over everything in heaven and on earth. 19 So, go. Make followers in every nation. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach them to do everything I commanded you to do. And I will be with you everyday until the end of time."

Matthew's "Great Commission" had a statement, a command, and a promise.

Literal Translation

16 The eleven disciples traveled to the mountain where JESUS commanded them (to go), 17 and, having seen HIM, they worshiped, but some doubted. 18 Having approached, JESUS said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to ME. 19 Go then, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to keep guard over everything, as much as I commanded you. 21 Look! I am with you every day until the (full) close of the age."

28:19 "Go then" is literally "Having traveled then." The participle has the force of a command.

28:19-21 Jesus pronouncement had a "sandwich" construction. First, Jesus declared his power and place in the Kingdom. Next, he gave the eleven a command "to make disciples of all nations." Last, he assured his followers of his presence until the Last Judgement.

The middle sentence in the "sandwich" had a single verb ("to make disciples of all nations") with three modifying participles ("go...baptize...teach"). To make disciples, the eleven were sent on missions. In foreign lands, they would preach and baptize new followers. Then, they would "teach" the new tradition"

In his gospel, Matthew made these verses the farewell of Jesus. In 28:10, the risen Jesus commanded his followers to meet him on a mountain in Galilee. For their first encounter with the Risen Lord in Matthew, they obeyed the command. [28:16] In past studies, we have discussed the significance of the mountain, the closest place to heaven on earth. When people climbed a mountain in the Bible, they desired to encounter God. On the mountain top, God would reveal himself and his will to the person.

So, the mountain symbolized the place teaching, revelation, and mission. In the Beatitudes, Jesus gave his greatest teaching on the mountain (see 5:1). In the Transfiguration, he revealed his true nature and mission on the mountain (see 17:1-9). And his Agony, he prayed on the garden mount (see 26:36). Jesus shared these mountaintop events with his followers. Now, on a mountaintop, he would commission his followers.

When they encountered the Risen Lord, they worshiped him, but some had doubts. [28:17] Unfortunately, the Greek in this verse is very unclear. For example, we do not know if more than the eleven journeyed to the mountain. We do not know if some worshiped and others doubts (or, if those who worshiped had doubts). And, we do not know what kinds of doubts they had. (Did Jesus really rise? Or, was the followers' faith strong enough?) We do know that, based upon the results of Jesus' commands, all doubts fled the hearts of the followers.

Jesus approached his followers and announced a command (like a royal decree) in three parts. First, he declared the obvious; he had the power of God. [28:18] Second, he gave his disciples the command to teach and baptize in the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. [28:19] Finally, he insured their success by promising his presence; when they spoke or acted, the disciples did it with the power of God [28:20].

Let's break these passages down into their components. First, Jesus approached his followers with a message. He was given authority over heaven and earth. [28:18] The power of Jesus extended beyond his word, however. Implicitly, his power lie in his risen presence.

Ancient people placed great weight in presence; the way someone dressed and acted spoke of social power. When the disciples saw the Risen Lord, bowed down in worship. With death vanquished, the limitations of life not longer had hold of Jesus. Jesus was all-powerful, an attribute Jews only gave to God himself. And the disciples witnessed this power. So, Jesus' risen presence confirmed his statement of power.

Next, Jesus sent his followers out with a command, make disciples wherever they traveled. How? By baptizing in God's powerful name. [28:19] Ancient people also chose names carefully; they believed a person's name defined their strength of character. In 28:19, Jesus revealed the inner power of God in three names. The three were listed together (expressing the unity of God) and as equals (expressing the all-powerful nature of each). When a believers were baptized in the name of the Trinity, they became intimate with all that God was: God above them (Father), God beside them (Son), and God within them (Holy Spirit). With God so close to the faithful, they became God's instruments.

After baptism, Jesus' followers would teach neophytes to pass along the tradition. [28:20a] The tradition was the Christian lifestyle. It included not only stories of the Master and worship of the Father. It had a strong moral component. In this way, Christians evangelized by word and deed. So, new Christians received a faith unbroken from the apostles (who learned at the feet of the Lord). And these new Christians would pass the faith onto the next generation. The faith grows throughout the world from the past into the future.

In the end, Jesus promised his personal presence with his followers in their mission until he came in glory. [28:20b] Making disciples may not be easy. But Jesus assured it would happen. The power of his presence guaranteed the power of his command.

Catechism Themes: Christ already reigns through his Church... (CCC 668-670)

Until all thing are subject to him. (CCC 671-672)

Christ's Ascension into heaven symbolized his Lordship. He now revealed his participation in the Father's power and authority. What the Son possessed by his divine nature, he manifest in the economy of salvation.

While Christ now reigns with his Father, he still dwells in his Body, the Church. Through the Church, Christ acts in the world. Through the Church he announces the immanence of God's Kingdom. The Church, imperfect as an assembly of sinners, still dares to declare the Kingdom. For the Church is made whole through the work of Christ's Spirit.

So, we await the coming of our Savior in these "end times." At Christ's second coming, all that God promised will happen. We will live forever in justice, love, and peace.

Have you been a godfather or godmother? How do you exercise that role today? Is your title an honor or a responsibility? Explain.

Christ commands us to evangelize. He tells us to bring new members into the Church and teach them to do the same. He promises to be with us in our mission. So, let us invite others into the Kingdom through our prayer, word, and example. Let us be the presence of Christ to others.

How can I invite others to follow Christ? Brainstorm 5-10 ways.