Tag Archives: Great Commission

Matthew 28: 16-20 A Sent Community and a Present Lord

Fra Angelico, Fresco in the Cloister of Mark in Florenz (1437-1445)

Matthew 28: 16-20

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted[1]. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,[2] baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [3]

This is Matthew’s unique and well-known conclusion to the gospel narrative, often called the Great Commission. This sending of Jesus’ disciples to all the nations brings together several themes from throughout the gospel of Matthew and puts one final exclamation point on the identity of Jesus for the gospel. These words, which have been influential for the church’s sense of mission and its development of a trinitarian language to talk about the experience of God in both Jesus and the Spirit, come with the expectation of these disciples and those who follow them forming communities that can practice the type of life that Jesus points to throughout the gospel. These communities, like the disciples who form them, will be places where the risen Christ can be worshipped but where doubt can coexist with that worship. These sent disciples remain ‘little faith ones’ who still need Christ’s presence as they go about their mission of making disciples and teaching until this eon ends and the kingdom of heaven is brought fully to earth.

Mountains have in Matthew’s gospel serve as places where the identity of Christ is revealed, the followers of Jesus are taught, and the kingdom of heaven is realized through healing and feeding. Previously on a mountain during the temptation (4:8) the devil attempted to challenge Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and during the transfiguration (17:1-9) the divine voice affirms Jesus’ identity as, “My Son, the Beloved.”[4] The location of the mountaintop becomes a place where the disciples now learn that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth and that his identity as Son is now included with the baptismal naming of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mountain is also a place of teaching in Matthew’s gospel, especially in reference the Sermon on Mount (Matthew 5-7). Now on the mountain these disciples who are sent to make disciples are to take the teaching they received to instruct the communities they will form in obedience to the commands of Christ.  For Matthew, mountains are a place where people come to know the identity, authority and teaching of Christ and at this final sending from the mountaintop Jesus’ identity, authority and teaching are confirmed and to be taught to a new generation of disciples.

The disciples have come after hearing the message delivered by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. The eleven traveled to Galilee and see Jesus and bow down to worship and doubt at the same time. This is only the second time in Matthew’s gospel where the word doubt has appeared,[5] and doubt and worship were paired in that occurrence as well. In Matthew 14:22-33, when Jesus walks on the water towards the disciples in the boat and Peter comes to Jesus on the water, Jesus says to Peter, “little faith one, why (have you entered) into doubt?” (my translation) As I mentioned in that section, I believe that instead of castigating Peter for experiencing doubt, perhaps he is reassuring Peter (and ‘little faith ones’ throughout the ages) that he indeed is ‘God with us’ in the midst of the storm. Now this is reinforced by the use of the word diatazo here on the mountain in Galilee after the resurrection where the disciples doubt is paired with the encouragement “I am with you always, to the end of the age. When Jesus and Peter returned to the boat the disciples worshipped, and here on the mountain they worship as well. Being a ‘little faith one’ or ‘one who doubts’ does not exclude one from being a disciple who can worship the experience of ‘God with us’ in Jesus. As M. Eugene Boring aptly states,

but they doubted…represents Matthew’s own theological understanding of the meaning of discipleship, which is always a matter of “little faith,” faith that by its nature is not the same as cocksureness, but incorporates doubts within itself in the act of worship. (NIB VIII,502)

Several English translations indicate that ‘some’ doubt, but in the Greek the indication is that all share this doubt. The resurrection event did not generate ‘perfect faith’ among the disciples, but their ‘little faith’ was enough to understand that the proper response was worship and obedience.

Throughout the gospel we have seen people bow down and worship Jesus. While the word here can simply mean to bow down and pay homage, Matthew often uses this term in scenes of “epiphanic self-manifestation” (Hays 2016, 167) which highlight the ways in which Jesus is revealed as ‘God with us’ throughout the gospel.[6] In addition to the times when the disciples worshipped after Jesus saved Peter in the storm mentioned above and the multiple approaches of people coming to Jesus to seek healing or an honor to be bestowed by Jesus[7] it is enlightening to see how Matthew uses the act of worshipping Jesus to bookend the gospel. The first to worship Jesus are the Magi (2:2, 11) and the gospel closes with both Marys worshipping Jesus (28:9) and now the disciples. As David Garland can illustrate the way Matthew uses this worship to bracket the gospel’s response to Jesus,

Their worship means the story has come full circle. The magi came to worship him as the king of the Jews in the beginning (2:2,11). At the conclusion, however, Jesus declares to his disciples that he is the supreme sovereign of the cosmos and owed unconditional obedience. Satan had only pledged to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world,” but Jesus grasped after nothing and has received much more through his faithful submission to the will of his heavenly Father—all authority in heaven and earth (see Ps. 2: 7-8) (Garland 2001, 270)

The commissioning of the disciples for their mission in this age has echoes of the commissioning of Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land. Jesus has already appeared as one who can on the mountain speak the law of God, and now the disciples are to carry forward all these teachings. Joshua has two separate commissions in the scriptures, and both are resonant here. First in Deuteronomy 31:23:

Then the LORD commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.”

Also, Joshua 1:7:

Only be strong, and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.

Like the divine commissions of Joshua, now the disciples are commanded to teach new disciples obedience to the commands of Jesus, but they are also promised the presence of their Lord in their mission.

Matthew’s gospel does not have a developed “Trinitarian theology” like the later church, but the seeds that would grow into that theology are present here. Matthew’s baptismal formula which links together the identities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit reflect Matthew’s continued invitation to see how the actions of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are linked with God’s revelation. Central to the development of the church’s later doctrine of the Trinity was the question of how to talk about the identity of Christ. Matthew’s continual use of scriptural images previously reserved for God to talk about the actions of Jesus have continued to point to a rich unity in identity between Jesus and the God of Israel. As Richard B. Hays speaks forcefully,

Matthew highlights the worship of Jesus for one reason: he believes and proclaims that Jesus is the embodied presence of Gad and that the worship of Jesus is to worship YHWH—not merely an agent of facsimile or an intermediary. If we read the story within the hermeneutical matrix of Israel’s Scripture, we can draw no other conclusion. (Hays 2016, 175)

Matthew’s gospel announces the upcoming birth of Jesus with the title Emmanuel (1:23, citing Isaiah 7:14) and Matthew’s gospel concludes with an echo of this title. The gospel is bookended with the claim that in Jesus, “God is with us.” This has been pointed to throughout the narrative and is also present in the promise that, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (18:20) This promise that I will be with you to the end (Greek sun-telos) of the eon is where the words and images and promises of Matthew’s gospel reach their telos.[8] As Hays again can state,

beyond the simple logical implications of Jesus’ parting promise, its significance is amplified by the extensive network of scriptural intertexts it evokes. In the MT and the LXX[9] there are atleast 114 instance[10] of a formula declaring God is “with” an individual, group, or the nation of Israel. (Hays 2016, 171)

This short conclusion to Matthew’s gospel brings together several central themes to instruct the disciples in their formation of the community of Christ. They once were commanded to go only to the lost sheep of Israel, but now their commission by their risen Lord is to go to all the nations. The story of Jesus has come full circle as the disciples worship the one who is God with them as they fulfill their commission until the completion of the eon. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus has only talked about the completion of the eon in parable form (13:22, 33, 39, 49) and the disciples ask Jesus about this again in relation to the destruction of the temple (24:3). The disciple of Jesus are not given signs which will herald the ending of the age, but they are given the promise of their Lord’s presence both in their mission and the sufferings that will come. As these ‘little faith ones’ now go out making disciples, baptizing, teaching and forming communities that can hand on the practices and faith which sees in Jesus the presence of God with us. Communities that can worship even in the midst of their doubts and questions as they, like Matthew, search for language that can bear witness to experience of the God who meets us in the crucified and resurrected Christ. Matthew has, like a scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven, brought out of the storehouse of scripture treasures old and new (13:52) for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. His act of handing on this gospel to us is a gift to teach disciples who now approach this text how to read the scriptures in light of Christ, how to practice obedience to the way of Christ and how our lives continue in the promised presence of the God who is with us.

[1] The Greek simply states that they doubted (oi de edistasan) there is no differentiation between those worshipping (proskuneo) and the doubting ones.

[2]Greek ethnos can mean either Gentiles or nations. I would agree with the translation of all nations instead of all Gentiles here (Matthew does not see an exclusion of the Jewish people from the ongoing mission).

[3] The Greek suntelieais tou aionos brings together two important words in Matthew. The first word is telos with the prefix sun attached, telos being a word of goal or end point and the combination with the prefix gives the idea of completion, closing. The translation of aion as age is appropriate if you are referring in the sense of ‘the age of man.’ This is the closing of the current eon and the initiation of the eon of the kingdom of heaven.

[4] This same title was also used in the baptism of Jesus (3:17). Although Matthew does not develop a baptismal theology for the early Christians he points to this as an activity of this community of Christ and the practice of baptism is linked to the narrative of Christ’s baptism.

[5] Matthew 21:21 in the NRSV is translated doubt, but it is the Greek diakrino instead of distazo used here and in 14:31.

[6] Matthew uses the Greek proskuneo (bow down, worship) a total of thirteen times in his gospel and almost always as an act of worship towards Jesus. In comparison Mark only uses this word twice and Luke three times.

[7] 8:2, 9:18, 15:25, 20:20

[8] Telos means goal, end, destination, or completion.

[9] MT is the Masoretic text or the Hebrew scriptures behind the English translation of the Old Testament, the LXX or Septuagint is the Greek text of what we refer to as the Old Testament.

[10] In addition to the commission of Joshua mentioned above Hays focuses on three particular examples: Genesis 28:12-17 (God in Jacob’s dream), Jeremiah 1:8-9 in the commissioning of the prophet Jeremiah and in the hopeful message of the Prophet Haggai (Haggai 1:13).

Matthew 10: 1-23 Summoning and Sending the Twelve

James Tissot, The Exhortation to the Apostles (between 1886 and 1894)

 Matthew 10: 1-23

Parallels Mark 3: 13-19a; 6: 6-11; 13: 9-13; Luke 9: 1; 6: 12-16; 9: 2-5; 12: 11-12; 6: 40

Highlighted words will have comment on translation below

 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The narrative in Matthew pushes us into these moments where the words of Jesus are used to reveal what the nature of discipleship will be for those called to follow (or in this case be sent by) Jesus. This block of teaching, sometimes called the ‘missionary discourse’ or the ‘apostolic discourse’ forms a cohesive unit of instruction for Matthew while Mark and Luke scatter these words throughout their gospels. Matthew remains a skilled editor, bringing together units in a way that is easy to remember and in sections that can easily be used to instruct future generations of those entrusted to proclaim the message of the kingdom of heaven’s presence among the earth. While this portion of the story is directed towards the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ it will continue to resonate for those who read this passage post-resurrection where apostles are sent beyond Israel to Samaria, the surrounding region of the Gentiles and to all the nations with the message and authority of the risen Christ.

The number twelve is symbolic in Israel, representing the twelve tribes named for the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel). In summoning twelve disciples Jesus symbolically has chosen one person to represent each of the lost tribes of Israel. The authority Jesus shares with them has been demonstrated in the previous two chapters of healings and exorcisms by Jesus and now the disciples are to exercise the same authority. The naming of the twelve disciples/apostles has a few interesting notes: we are introduced to the two sets of brothers in Matthew 4: 18-22, and unlike Mark and Luke we learn that  Matthew is noted to be the tax collector introduced in Matthew 9: 9-13. Even though the ministry is to the lost sheep of Israel, the second Simon is noted as ‘the Cananaean’ (Luke titles presumably the same Simon as Simon the Zealot) and finally there is the oft discussed title of Judas, Judas Iscariot. We often think of people having last names, but when someone is given a second addition to their name in ancient times it is a way of linking either to family (typically proceeded by son of…) or some other descriptor. Iscariot could be a linkage to the Sicarii, a group of Jewish Zealots prior to the fall of the temple in 70 CE who strongly opposed Rome’s rule in Judea (the name comes from the daggers they concealed under their cloaks). If Judas is linked to the Zealots then it could explain his later betrayal of Jesus and would make this group that Jesus called a diverse group: uniting fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and perhaps even a non-Jew. Regardless of origins, the twelve disciples will be instrumental in the continued witness of Jesus’ ministry and meaning in the time after the resurrection.

These twelve apostles (apostle means ‘one sent out’) are now joined to this continued reconstitution of the people of God. The title ‘lost sheep’ echoes Jeremiah:

My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains; from mountain to hill they have gone, they have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, “We are not guilty, because they have sinned against the LORD, the true pasture, the LORD, the hope of their ancestors.   Jeremiah 50: 6-7, see also the language of Ezekiel 34 (although the term lost sheep is not used)

The Greek term for lost, apollumi, is a word that normally means destroyed, killed, or perished (the Hebrew term in Jeremiah can also have these meanings in addition to lost). In combination with the later message about being lambs going among the wolves, those who have devoured, the language poetically evokes, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both a God who can bring new life out of death, can re-gather a decimated flock and whose presence makes new realities possible, but also that these activities will be resisted. Yet, the sending is a message of hope, not judgment. As Richard B. Hays can state:

Matthew 10, however, show no interest in pronouncing judgment on the people for straying from the fold. Rather, Jesus is portrayed as sending the disciples out to rescue and regather them, because “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (10:7). (Hays, 2016, p. 129)

The proclamation that the ‘kingdom of heaven has come near’ is identical to the gospel that Jesus proclaims in Matthew 4: 23 but the word euangellion which is translated gospel or good news is not present in the Greek. Regardless the apostles are sent as heralds of the approaching kingdom of God in both words and actions which are identical to those already demonstrated by Jesus. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” evokes the healing narratives in Matthew 8-9 which those reading the gospel, or hearing it read, have just encountered. They are to do this not for financial gain, they are not to use these powers entrusted to them to accumulate wealth or power, but instead (in the order the Greek renders it) “without cost you received, without cost give.”

The word translated take in verse 9 is ktaomai which is better translated acquire, and probably has less to do with what the disciples may take for their journey than continuing to emphasize that they received without cost and they are to give without cost. Laborers deserve their food, but they are not to accumulate precious metals, additional clothing or items for their journey. They are to rely on the hospitality of the people to be provided for during their stay with them, but they are not to use this commissioning as a means to accumulate. They are to find a worthy person to receive their message and to be their host, they are to offer their blessing of peace to that home so long as the home is worthy and shows them hospitality. They are the heralds of the message, but they cannot ensure its reception and if they are not received with hospitality then they are to depart without even the dust of the town or home that wouldn’t receive them. Those places are guilty of the same violation that Sodom made when the angels visited their town and Lot’s home in Genesis 19, they did not extend hospitality and they were hostile to the emissaries of God’s kingdom. While the apostles carry a message of hope, Jesus’ words point to the necessity of receiving this message for the approach of the kingdom of heaven is joyous for those who receive it with joy but judgment for those aligned against it.

Just as verse seven looked back to chapters eight and nine with the apostles now doing the very things that Jesus did, now in verses 16-23 the persecutions that those sent out with the message entrusted to them by Jesus will encounter the same reception that Jesus receives. Being handed over to councils and synagogues (26: 1-5; 26: 57-68), dragged before governors and kings (27: 1-2, 11-26), being betrayed by brothers (which can also reference not only physical connection but also may reference being betrayed by other believers as with Judas 26: 47-51). (Allen, 2013, p. 105) They are sent out to the lost sheep of Israel as sheep themselves, subject to the same dangers from those who have previously devoured the flock. They are called on to be shrewd and at the same time not to adopt the practices of those who have left the flock in such a decimated state. They will receive the same treatment that Jesus did, and though Matthew doesn’t share the gospel of John’s imagery of Jesus being the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ these sheep, like Jesus will be handed over to death for the sake of the world.

Those carrying this proclamation will be hated because they represent a challenge to those who have been the shepherd, both political and religious, to the flock and have fattened themselves off the flock. The shepherd have turned out to be wolves, brothers may become betrayers and in the acidic words of Johnathan Swift these wolves or shepherds or brothers have “just enough religion to make us hate one another—but not enough to make us love one another” (Case-Winters, 2015, p. 159) The disciples are to be something different, to have enough ‘religion’ or faith to make us love one another, to perceive the advance of the kingdom of heaven against the forces that keep people enslaved, possessed, sick and injured. They are not to practice the ways of the shepherds who became wolves by accumulating the possessions and wealth of the sheep they were to care for, but instead to trust that they have what they need for the ministry they are sent into. The world may be a dangerous place but there are worthy homes and people who are willing to practice hospitality and to hear their proclamation. These apostles have no time for places unreceptive to their message and resistant to the kingdom of heaven. They merely are to shake off the dust and walk (or flee) to the next town, for there are more towns in Israel than they can cover. The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are relatively few.

Images for The Holy Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1: 1- 2:4a                In the beginning…
Psalm 8                                    When I look to the heavens, the work of your fingers…
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God…
Matthew 28: 16-20            Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…
 

OK, a lot of directions that can be gone on a Sunday like this artwise…talking specifically about the Trinity there are images like:

Icon of the Council of Nicea

Icon of the Council of Nicea

Since the Council of Nicea is where the language of God as Trinity became the official doctrine of the church in 325

Rublev's Icon of the Holy Trinity

Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity

Trinity with Christ Crucified, Austrian abour 1410

Trinity with Christ Crucified, Austrian about 1410

For the first reading about the creation there are also a plethora of images, here are some varied images I like:

Lukas Cranach, Day 7 Shabbat, The Rest of God and Man, from the Lutherbibel (1534)

Lukas Cranach, Day 7 Shabbat, The Rest of God and Man, from the Lutherbibel (1534)

William Blake, The Ancient of Days: The Division of Light and Darkness (1794)

William Blake, The Ancient of Days: The Division of Light and Darkness (1794)

PIA09107_fig1

I like this particular nebula because it is where the formation the Pillars of Creation is

Origins of Creation by nisht@deviantart.com

Origins of Creation by nisht@deviantart.com

Creation by OneLifeOneArt@deviantart.com

Creation by OneLifeOneArt@deviantart.com

And for the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel:

Christoph Wiegel, The Great Commission

Christoph Wiegel, The Great Commission

Stained glass window by David J. Hetland

Stained glass window by David J. Hetland