The Great Commission
Holy Trinity Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 28: 16 — 20
As Christian scholars so clearly demonstrate, this reading, the conclusion of St. Matthew’s Gospel, is more a beginning than an end! The Beginning of Chapter 28 is the Resurrection morning. Jesus appears to two women, and tells them to get the eleven to gather at Galilee i.e. make an appointment with them. When they hear this they must be relieved to get away from Jerusalem and go back “where they belong”.
Some Reflections on the text
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to
which Jesus had ordered them.
The eleven obey and gather on a mountain in Galilee. We do not know which mountain and it does not matter. As John McKenzie S.J. tells us, “….. it lies in the same geographical order as the mountain of temptation (4: 8); the mountain of the sermon (5: 11), and the mountain of the transfiguration.” In other words, the mountain stands for a symbolism marking the august grandeur and powerful significance accompanying these great moments when the Son of the Most High reveals Himself intimately to the disciples He loves and treasures so much.
Though easily overlooked, this unmistakable symbolism begins the brief but immensely rich unveiling of our Lord′s final message ― which turns out to be the perfect overview (if not summary) of His whole coming to mankind; His living, teaching, dying and rising again. In St. Matthew′s Gospel there is quite an unexpected twist. This is the moment of a new Presence, a new coming of the risen Jesus ― in fact a kind of foretaste of the Second Coming, the return of the Lord. This is a glorious moment of Emmanuel, which means God with us.
They gather in a manner which reminds us as it must have reminded them, of how Jesus began his teaching — teaching the beatitudes on a hillside. For Matthew: here is the new Moses teaching New Israel. This is a key understanding we need to have if we are to appreciate how the first Jewish Christians saw themselves: as assigned to the primary role of passing on the essence of the Jewish culture and faith. They saw those of their fellow Jews who rejected Jesus as betraying Judaism and establishing their own path of separate development. Notice, they did not see themselves as starting a new sect, and plotting their own course. They saw themselves as the True Israel giving testimony to all the Law and the Prophets had pointed towards.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
We need to recall that this is the first time (in this Gospel account) that the Apostles had seen Jesus since his resurrection. Quite naturally some experienced reservations about what they were seeing!
Actually this is a sign of their honesty. Their frame of mind appears to be — “What is going on?” The Greek word for “doubted” does not mean settled unbelief. These were committed followers — honest and hard working men. Since this was the first sighting after Jesus′ resurrection, it took time to adjust. Jesus is more than willing to understand. So, what is Jesus’ response?
The response of Jesus is the same as at the Transfiguration when the Shekinah surrounded the three disciples. God spoke and they were afraid. Here they are stunned. So Jesus approaches them. He does this often in certain Gospel events, to indicate His loving concern and to show understanding. This is consistent with his compassionate and caring attitude towards his closest friends.
Our Lord′s response resounds overwhelmingly in our ears: it is not a sin to be human ― so long as we are real, honest, and humble, as were these loyal Jewish men.
A special word is used here as it was at the Transfiguration. Note, Jesus is not departing. This whole section is a coming; an advance demonstration of his return. Jesus bridges the “gap” so that there is no distance. He speaks words not only of comfort but of supreme confidence in them! All the time Jesus is preparing them for when they will, in turn, face people who will also be doubting. He is assuring them, “I will be with you. I have come. I’m here to stay, though you must learn how this will unfold”.
Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in
heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Jesus announces that the Father has given Him all power both in heaven and on earth. Our Lord had declined an offer of such from Satan (4: 8) but now announces the dawn of a new age under His jurisdiction.
The mission of Jesus, from this time forward is, therefore to be universal.
Verses 19 and 20
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Jesus then commissions the disciples to go to all nations, and make disciples of people anywhere who will listen and believe. No longer are they confined to Israel! Note “of all nations” means individuals not nations! Baptising them into the name, i.e. into the ownership into the Family Name, shared equally by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
• plunging them into where they belong ― at the heart of the
Trinity; locating them in the bonds of family love which bind
together not only Father, Son and Holy Spirit but also the
members of the Church. i.e. God’s Family;
• that membership is open to all who choose to listen and
respond with their whole hearts. But there is one more condition.
The condition is teaching them “to observe everything I have commanded you”, i.e. to be compliant. There can be no doubt Jesus speaks as the New Moses. Jesus requires religious observance. The word for command is the same as in Matthew 5: 19 and 15: 3.
The Biblical understanding associated with observance is somewhat more than obedience as we think of it. To observe in the Biblical tradition, is to:
• Listen to the command, the teaching;
• take it to heart as part of oneself, i.e. to obey;
• Comply, by putting it into action, to live it, as a disciple.
Disciples of Jesus are to teach observance of all that the Lord commanded. This is not “blind obedience” ― just the opposite! It is His way of conforming us to the Will of God and thus enabling us to grow in stature and spiritual strength in His service. It is also His way of leading us into the joy of spiritual insight and personal fulfilment.
Remember, Matthew ends with a beginning. Jesus does not ascend or depart but comes and remains. What follows is still being written in the actions of Jesus’ followers.
Further comments on “teaching them to observe”
Notice that those who are discipled, must not only be baptised, but also taught what He taught. We now focus on some key ideas about this notion.
The focus is to be on Jesus’ commands, not just an Old Testament Law as such, but on His restatement of the Law, the Torah, in light of His fulfilment of its entire content.
• Note here how Jesus sounds like God in the Old Testament.
He speaks with authority about belonging, sharing life, and genuine
intimacy as each member of His Household serves the other,
following the example of the Blessed Trinity.
• Nothing He has said will ever be outdated. Everything He has
commanded must be passed on until the consummation of the
world. Since the Scriptures do not contain everything that Jesus
taught (John 21: 25), the Apostles, and those whom they
authorise, are the channel by which this will occur.
• The eyewitnesses are also to become earwitnesses and so
begin an ongoing chain which has come down to include us,
and which binds us to pass it on exactly as He gave it.
The teaching is an on-going obligation inherent in being a
disciple: that is how Christianity is to spread or it will decay.
• So what does Jesus mean by “all that I have
commanded you“? Jesus went to great lengths to
demonstrate that He was not finishing with God’s Law, or
teaching, or Torah or guidance, but bringing it to
completion, restoring His ancient Word, renewing it.
(Drawn from D. Carson and others.)
They were therefore to teach what He has taught them because He has taught them: not abstract ideas but observance!
In effect Jesus says, “You can be absolutely sure that I AM with you to help and guide you on your way. As the Church moves down through the ages, I will be with you. Before I was born the Angel called me Emmanuel — ‘God is with us’. In me, God continues to keep His promise: and will do so until the end of time.”
Jesus revealed the loving merciful character of God (for which He paid a price!)
He honoured and upheld the Holy Name of God who named himself to Moses as,
I AM WHO AM.
Jesus also revealed that He was united to — at one with “I am”, whom He called Father: whose Name He held too sacred to pronounce, yet whose presence will be accessible to all humanity for their spiritual growth and wellbeing through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
(Our website has this as one of its aims)
Our Lord says to us, in a word of assurance:
“You too are made in God’s image and reflect the Triune God’s
own being. You are body and soul. You have been made to
share in the very life and love of God, Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. Go forth and share this intimate revelation with all who
will listen. I will be with you: you can count on that!”
A Final Thought
So unreservedly did the Christians of the first few centuries trust in our Lord and his promise to be with them when they gave witness, that they were enabled to suffer horrific Martyrdom for the Lord. Here we have the example of St Peter Balsam
(A.D. 311) to inspire us.
About half way through the account, note how, in his final moments, he follows our Lord’s example and quotes from the Psalms:— Psalm 27: 4 and Psalm 116: 13. Many martyrs had done so before him, and many have done since.
St Peter Balsam
Peter Balsam, a native of the territory of Eleutheropolis, in Palestine, was apprehended at Aulane, in the persecution of Maximinus. Being brought before Severus, governor of the province, the interrogatory began by asking him his name.
“Balsam is the name of my family; but I received that of Peter in
Severus “Of what family, and of what country are you?”
Peter “I am a Christian.”
Severus “What is your employ?”
Peter “What employ can I have more honourable, or what
better thing can I do in the world, than to live a Christian?”
Severus “Do you know the imperial edicts?”
Peter “I know the laws of God, the sovereign of the universe.’
Severus “You shall quickly know that there is an edict of
the most clement emperors, commanding all to sacrifice to
the gods, or be put to death.”
Peter “You will also know one day that there is a law of the
eternal king, proclaiming that every one shall perish, who
offers sacrifice to devils: which do you counsel me to obey,
and which, do you think, should be my option; to die by
your sword, or to be condemned to everlasting misery, by
the sentence of the great king, the true God?”
Severus “Seeing you ask my advice, it is then that you obey
the edict, and sacrifice to the gods.”
Peter “I can never be prevailed upon to sacrifice to gods
of wood and stone, as those are which you adore.”
Severus “I would have you know, that it is in my power
to revenge these affronts by your death.”
Peter “I had no intention to affront you. I only expressed
what is written in the divine law.”
Severus “Have compassion on yourself and sacrifice.”
Peter “If I am truly compassionate to myself, I ought not
Severus “My desire is to use lenity; I therefore still allow
you time to consider with yourself, that you may save your
Peter “This delay will be to no purpose, for I shall not alter
my mind; do now what you will be obliged to do soon, and
complete the work, which the devil, your father, has begun;
for I will never do what Jesus Christ forbids me.”
Severus, on hearing these words, ordered him to be hoisted
on the rack, and whilst he was suspended in the air, said to
him scoffing: “What say you now, Peter; do you begin to know
what the rack is? Are you yet willing to sacrifice?”
Peter answered: “Tear me with iron hooks, and talk not of
my sacrificing to your devils: I have already told you, that
I will sacrifice to that God alone for whom I suffer.”
Hereupon the governor commanded his tortures to be
redoubled. The martyr, far from fetching the least sigh,
sang with alacrity those verses of the royal prophet:
• “One thing I have asked of the Lord: this will I seek
after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the
days of my life”
• “I will take the chalice of salvation, and will call
upon the name of the Lord.”
The governor called forth fresh executioners to relieve the
first, now fatigued. The spectators seeing the martyr’s blood
run down in streams, cried out to him: “Obey the emperors:
sacrifice, and rescue yourself from these torments.”
Peter replied: “Do you call these torments? I, for my part,
feel no pain: but this I know, that if I am not faithful to my
God, I must expect real pains, such as cannot be conceived.”
The judge also said: “Sacrifice, Peter Balsam, or you will
Peter “Neither will I sacrifice, nor shall I repent it.”
Severus “I am just ready to pronounce sentence.”
Peter “It is what I most earnestly desire.”
Severus then dictated the sentence in this manner:
“It is our order, that Peter Balsam, for having refused to
obey edict of the invincible emperors, and having
contemned our commands, after obstinately defending
the law of a man crucified, be himself nailed to a cross.”
Thus it was that this glorious martyr finished his triumph,
at Aulane, on the 3rd of January, on which day he is
honoured in the Roman Martyrology #, and that of Bede.
The above term, “martyrology” is a traditional term meaning an official register of Christian martyrs. Some martyrologies e.g. the very early records at Rome were rather like calendars which listed the saints’ names generally on their heavenly birthday, i.e. the day of their departure from this world. They were understood to be taken immediately before the Throne of God.
The Martyrology of St Bede in England (around A D 730) contained historical material of the lives of the saints named in it.
The Roman Martyrology remains in daily use throughout the world and commemorates the lives and sacrifice of those who were unyielding in following their Saviour’s command:
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.”
In the example of the martyrs we see, that religion alone inspires true constancy and heroism, and affords solid comfort and joy amidst the most terrifying dangers, calamities, and torments. It spreads calm throughout a person’s whole life consoles at all times. He that is united to God, rests in omnipotence, and in wisdom and goodness; he is reconciled with the world whether it frowns or flatters, and with himself. The interior peace which he enjoys, is the foundation of happiness, and the delights which innocence and virtue bring, abundantly compensate the loss of the base pleasures of vice. Death itself, so terrible to the worldly person, is the crown of the saints, and completes their joy and their bliss. (From Butler’s “Lives of The Saints”)
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(Mark 16: 15)
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The Great Commission
Holy Trinity Year B Matthew 28: 16 — 20
1. In chapter one of St. Matthew’s Gospel an angel visits Joseph and explains to him how he is able to take Mary as his wife — who has already conceived — and the child is to be called Jesus, who will fulfil the prophecy of (Isaiah 7: 14)
So “Jesus is Emmanuel” — “God with us.”
In the last sentence of this Gospel, Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always — meaning, all the days, at all times, until I return in glory — at the end of the age”.
The Gospel is therefore a beautiful outworking of how important we are to each member of the Blessed Trinity, and how they provide for us to be kept in their midst and warm embrace. All of this whilst we are dispatched to the ends of the earth to bring others into this same warm embrace by our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. If we can be certain of anything it is this truth: God is with us — Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
2. If we are going to evangelise the world — i.e. to “Gospelise” the world, the first task is to extend to others the hospitality of God in Jesus Christ. This is knowledge which Jesus teaches, but it is also His loving embrace and invitation to others to belong to God’s family. They will meet Jesus in us and in our homes, or they may never know Him! We have to believe God knows what He’s doing!
3. The absolute nature of our Lord’s final declaration can almost blow us away:
All power …..
All that our treasured Hebrew Scriptures faithfully recorded has now come to fruition and perfect fulfilment. God’s Holy Name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit is now finally revealed to us — at the hearing of which we will always bow in humble adoration and gratitude that it is the Family Name into which we are born again and in which we will find our entire personal fulfilment.
Blessed be the Most Holy Name of God!
Matthew 28: 16 — 20
Holy Trinity Year B
16 8 The eleven 9 disciples went to Galilee, to the
17 10 When they saw him, they worshiped, but they
18 11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All
19 Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations,
20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded
8 [16-20] This climactic scene has been called a “proleptic parousia,” for it gives a foretaste of the final glorious coming of the Son of Man (⇒ Matthew 26:64). Then his triumph will be manifest to all; now it is revealed only to the disciples, who are commissioned to announce it to all nations and bring them to belief in Jesus and obedience to his commandments.
9  The eleven: the number recalls the tragic defection of Judas Iscariot. To the mountain . . . ordered them: since the message to the disciples was simply that they were to go to Galilee (⇒ Matthew 28:10), some think that the mountain comes from a tradition of the message known to Matthew and alluded to here. For the significance of the mountain, see the note on ⇒ Matthew 17:1.
10  But they doubted: the Greek can also be translated, “but some doubted.” The verb occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in ⇒ Matthew 14:31 where it is associated with Peter’s being of “little faith.” For the meaning of that designation, see the note on ⇒ Matthew 6:30.
11  All power . . . me: the Greek word here translated power is the same as that found in the LXX translation of ⇒ Daniel 7:13-14 where one “like a son of man” is given power and an everlasting kingdom by God. The risen Jesus here claims universal power, i.e., in heaven and on earth.
12  Therefore: since universal power belongs to the risen Jesus (⇒ Matthew 28:18), he gives the eleven a mission that is universal. They are to make disciples of all nations. While all nations is understood by some scholars as referring only to all Gentiles, it is probable that it included the Jews as well. Baptizing them: baptism is the means of entrance into the community of the risen one, the Church. In the name of the Father . . . holy Spirit: this is perhaps the clearest expression in the New Testament of trinitarian belief. It may have been the baptismal formula of Matthew’s church, but primarily it designates the effect of baptism, the union of the one baptized with the Father, Son, and holy Spirit.
13  All that I have commanded you: the moral teaching found in this gospel, preeminently that of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The commandments of Jesus are the standard of Christian conduct, not the Mosaic law as such, even though some of the Mosaic commandments have now been invested with the authority of Jesus. Behold, I am with you always: the promise of Jesus’ real though invisible presence echoes the name Emmanuel given to him in the infancy narrative; see the note on ⇒ Matthew 1:23. End of the age: see the notes on ⇒ Matthew 13:39 and ⇒ Matthew 24:3.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised