Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20
The Presence and Power of God
What concepts do you find easy to understand but difficult to communicate?
Have you ever been at a loss for words? Has an experience ever left you speechless? Or has an emotion run so deep words cannot express its meaning? As much as words communicate, so much more is left within the heart. This is one of the key mysteries of life.
To this mystery add the revelation of God. Loving Father. Self-giving Son. The power of the Spirit. So much to express. So few words that do God's revelation justice. Nonetheless, the inner nature of God was revealed in presence and in power.
26 The eleven apostles went to a mountaintop in Galilee where Jesus told them to meet. 27 When they saw him there, they worshiped Jesus, but they still wondered what was going on. 28 After Jesus approached the apostles, he said, "The Father gave me power over everything in heaven and on earth. 29 Now, make people from every nation my followers:
Go to them.
Baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Teach them to carefully hold onto every command I gave you.
30 Listen! I am always with you until the end of time."
Matthew presented the eleven apostles receiving a vision of the Risen Lord and the apostolic command. Freed from death, his presence and word had real power, the power of God.
26 The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus ordered them (to meet). 27 Having seen him, they worshiped but those doubted.
28:17 "they worshiped but those doubted." This phrase causes scholars problems with two questions: Who doubted? And, when did they doubt? Some scholars indicate the doubters were a minority of the eleven (" . . . some doubted"), while others place the doubters outside the circle of the eleven ("they worshiped him, while others doubted."). Some scholars place the doubt prior to worshiping ('those who doubted worshiped him"). None of these stands can be supported by the grammar of the phrase. The word for "those" (the Greek definite article) refers to the eleven disciples in 15:26. No other disciples are indicated. So, the eleven worshiped Jesus but had doubts.
This gospel passage speaks of power: the power of presence and the power of the name. Ancient people placed great weight in presence; the way someone dressed and acted spoke of social power. Ancient people also chose names carefully; they believed a person's name defined their strength of character. Both outward presence and inward character are part of the disciples' experience.
The disciples saw the Risen Lord and 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, even though they had a touch of skepticism . Their experience of his presence caused wonder, both in awe and in incredulity.
28 Having approached, Jesus said to them, "All authority in heaven and earth was given to me. 29 Having traveled (far), then, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 30 and teaching them to guard everything as I commanded you. Look! I am with you all the days until the close of the age."
28:29-30 Jesus told his followers to make disciples (the main verb of the sentence) with three participles: going out, baptizing, and teaching so the new disciples will hold onto that which Jesus commanded (i.e., keeping "tradition"). Since this command was part of Jesus' teaching, the activities of travel, baptism, and proclamation of the Good News became an ongoing, unending cycle.
Jesus came to his followers with a royal decree in three parts. First, he declared the obvious; he had the power of God . Second, he gave his disciples the command to go, to teach, and to baptize in the name of God : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (Notice their ministry was modeled after Jesus'.) Finally, he insured their success by promising his presence; when they spoke or acted, the disciples did it with the power of God .
In 28:19, Jesus reveals the inner power of God in three names. The three are listed together (expressing the unity of God) and as equals (expressing the all-powerful nature of each). When believers are baptized in the name of the Trinity, they become intimate with all that God is: God above them (Father), God beside them (Son), and God within them (Holy Spirit). With God so close to the faithful, they become God's instruments.
In 324 A.D., the gathering of bishops at Nicea declared doctrine of the Trinity. Their declaration was in response to a false teaching that the Son and Spirit were merely creatures. If the Son and Spirit were creatures, then the relationship of all believers to the Father would be distant. The bishops rejected this teaching and reaffirmed God's intimacy with his faithful. As Catholics, we profess the Nicene Creed every Sunday at Mass.
Catechism Theme: The Trinity (CCC 232, 238-245, 257-260)
The Church receives new believers "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit." The singular term "name" referred to the ancient notion that God in substance (nature or essence) is one, but three in person (or "hypostasis"). The family acts as an easily understood analogy of this mystery. There is only one family, but many members.
Why do we believe in the Trinity ( "Tri" or three persons in "unity" or one God)? We believe through the words and actions of Jesus. And we believe though the work of the Spirit in the Church.
Common sense tells us God exists. But Jesus gave us a new look into nature of God. As creator, God is "Father." Jesus made that distant concept close and intimate. The Father became "Our Father" who cares for each and every one of his creatures with an intense, personal love. As he showed us God as this loving Father, Jesus revealed himself as the only Son of the Father. As the Son, he became our model and connection with the Father. Through the Son we touch the warm embrace of the Father.
The Spirit continues the mission of the Son through the Church. The Spirit moves us to intimacy with the Father. It moves us to prayer and worship, witness and evangelization, community and service. Through the Spirit, the strangers become friends, friends become believers, and believers come close to God.
Hence, we believe God is Trinity (three divine persons in one God) simply because we experience divine power in the words, deeds, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And we experience divine life in the Spirit. In both we find what we call "God." In both, we experience the Father as a personal, intensely loving, and compassionate God.
In all three, we find a single purpose and unity of action. All three created the cosmos. All three act in its salvation.
What experience of God have you had in the past month? How do the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit connect with your experience?
The risen Christ revealed more than his changed life. His presence showed his followers the power of the Father: the Spirit. When the followers saw the resurrected Lord and heard his command to evangelize the entire world, they saw for themselves the Trinity in action.
When we live as followers of Christ, we invite others to join us not because they see nice people living good lives. No, they, too, see the Trinity in action. For God works through us.
Have you ever prayed to be God's instrument? To be the face of Christ to others? To have the Spirit work through you? To show others the Father's love? Take time this week to pray in this way. And focus your prayer on one or two people.