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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before June 15 2014


Matthew 28:16-20

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

What I am Learning:

This is at once a grace-filled, energizing, and disturbing text.

It is grace-filled in that when they met him on the mountain, some among them worshiped but some doubted. Those with doubts and questions were welcome, they were a part of the community. We tend to read in to this text that they doubted that someone could be raised from the dead. These people from a pre-scientific worldview would probably not have questioned the possibility of someone being raised from the dead. I think what they may very well have doubted is that the messiah who was to bring resurrection to others, was himself resurrected. The messiah was to bring resurrection, not experience it himself after being rejected and crucified.

But whatever their doubts, they were a part of the community. No authoritarian “you have to believe everything” nonsense here!

This is also an energizing text. The one who joined us in human life, welcomed the poor and the outcast, challenged the way things were, equipped so many to be leaders in their own communities, and risked his life to bring blessing and peace to the world is now the one with authority in heaven and earth. To be a disciple of Jesus is to have primary allegiance to the Fully Human One who is wiling to risk his life for everyone – a servant leader who equips others for their full humanity. No Ceasar, no CEO, no President, no Pundit, no TV channel, no political party or ideology, no boss, no fear or hatred is now in charge - only the Fully Human One.

While any one of these may hold sway temporarily, as disciples we recognize the true leader of the universe. This one has authority, but is not authoritarian.

But then we get rather tripped up, I think, by the words “make disciples of all nations.”

I appreciate the fact that Matthew is opening up the healing (salvation) of God to all nations. While the Hebrew scripture is very clear about this, sometimes the People of Israel were not – thinking that God’s love was for them alone.

But I think we get ourselves into a pretty authoritarian stance when we read these words “of all nations.” This makes us think that if we don’t convert everyone to Christianity then we are disobeying Jesus. And if they don’t convert easily, then we can put ourselves in the position of having to

  • Convince them to convert
  • Coerce them for their own good
  • Manipulate them into converting
  • Discount them if they don’t convert
  • Disdain them if they don’t
  • Dehumanize them
  • Destroy them as a threat

So we have a Lord with an anti-authoritarian view who makes an authoritarian demand to see people who are not Christian as prey to be converted or enemies to be conquered. This one sentence gives many Christians a destructive sense of privilege over others.

So much for the Jesus who tells us to love our enemies!

Or not.

According to many scholars, this text really should read: “make disciples in all nations.

How different is that! Instead of putting us in the position of trying to convert everyone, we are sent into the four corners of the earth, with all its cultural diversity, and told make discipleship of Jesus open to all – all the while remembering that the core of discipleship is being committed to respect the dignity of every human being.

One part of the evangelism that needs to happen today is to tell Christians the good news that they serve a God who is committed to everyone. To be a Christian, then, is to join God in this loving commitment to everyone – not to the conversion of everyone.

I still believe in engaging people with the Gospel of Jesus – in God’s unconditional love for human beings. I think many people need to hear and know this. I know I do.

I think our mistranslation of this text leads us into the trap of a deeply incongruent spirituality that both eats away at us and leads us to a sense of privilege that others can see a mile away – that leads them to stay a mile away.

Remember that Jesus promised to be with us to the end of the age. We are not alone in our doubting or in our loving. Rest in Jesus’ presence.