“But some doubted…” What comforting words to the church! That is not a bad description of any congregation: some worship, full of faith, and some hold back due to doubt. Even with Christ standing bodily before them, his identity is not self-evident.
– William H. Willimon Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary, edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson
You can find the readings for The Ascension of the Lord here.
We know this reading as “The Great Commission.” You can expect to hear that name many times this weekend, so why not here? The scripture scholar will tell you that in this reading Matthew clearly identifies Jesus as the Emmanuel. Jesus is the divine presence who is with us in everything we do.
This final send-off in Matthews Gospel is broken down into three parts; the past, the present and the future. God gave to Jesus divine authority as the Son of man (past). Jesus sends out the disciples to all nations with the charge to teach all that He has commanded (present). Finally, Jesus promises to continue to be with the disciples going forward (future).
God without you won’t; you without God can’t
– Desmond Tutu
We understand that as we are studying, working, praying, teaching, cooking, or just lounging about, God is with us. Now, God will be with us regardless of what we do, but we are expected to spread the good word. In 2010, before he was Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio explained that “it’s key that we Catholics, both clergy and laity, go out to meet the people.” In his words we are to be “missionary disciples in communion.”
You may be thinking; what does that even mean? Perhaps you think to yourself; I know exactly what that means. Most likely, as in my case, you haven’t thought about what it means. We should explore what that means because Matthew’s words of Jesus are meant for us.
What Matthew’s Jesus was saying is that once you understand the meaning of Jesus, you have a new responsibility. You now must go into “all the world.” You must go to those you have described as unclean, unbaptized, uncircumcised, non-koshered, different or unworthy and you must proclaim to them the love of God that has no boundaries and that knows no limits. You do this by crossing all human boundaries, all human prejudices and by removing the sources of all human rejections. The “Great Commission” thus has nothing to do with converting the heathen.
– John Shelby Spong
If you listen to a sermon on “The Great Commission” and come away with a feeling that it is easy or that you are confident that you are doing what the Gospel prescribes, perhaps you have misunderstood the meaning.
Eve Tushnet tells us that “the sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants.” To explain this she points to Matthew 19: 16-22. The story is of a man who approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to obtain eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. The man explains that he keeps the commandments but he then asks Jesus what he still lacks. Jesus tells him he must sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, then come and follow Jesus. This makes the man sad and walk away. The sacrifices the man wanted to make were not the only sacrifices God wanted him to make.
I know there are prejudices I hold that keep me from loving fully. The story of the rich man unwilling to sell his possessions is not just about hoarding wealth, but is a metaphor for anything that you are unwilling to part with. If a prejudice stands between you and following Jesus it is no different than the wealth of the rich man.
Eve Tushnet explains that “we are tempted to believe that our love of God and our love of others won’t ever conflict. But there will be times when it does seem like God is asking us to choose. At the very least, God may require us to radically reshape our understanding of what love of another person should look like.”
The Gospel today calls us to examine ourselves and see clearly our faith and our doubts. If you take away one thing from this homily it should be that we are called to teach the love of Jesus to all nations and recognize that this love has no boundaries or limits. It will not be easy but Jesus promised to be with us through it all. So, get out there and spread the love.