Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Matthew 28. 16-20 :
Matthew’s Message in a Nutshell
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
When was the last ‘new disciple of Christ’ made in your Christian community?
Do you know who it was, and how it came about?
Reflection on the text
This is Matthew’s account of the last meeting of Jesus with his disciples, on a mountain, in Galilee – back where it all began. His message is for us too. On this and subsequent Sundays in Trinity we return to make sense of Matthew’s Jesus for ourselves.
Significant things happened on mountains! It’s the setting for revelation in Matthew. It’s where Moses encountered God. It’s where Jesus was tempted to abandon his Father’s mission (4v1-11); where he delivered his ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (ch 5 – 7), and where he was ‘transfigured’ in the presence of three of his closest disciples (17v1-13). Now, Jesus comes for the final time – to a mountain (28v16).
Declaring his divine and universal authority (cf Daniel 7v14) Jesus tells them to “go and make disciples of all nations (v18)… and tell them everything you have learned from me” (v20). He commissions them to take his gospel out to the world, overturning earlier restrictions (10v5) and breaking out of the narrow confines of Israel and Judaism, to offer it to all people (all ethnic groups) everywhere. The missionary responsibility includes the formation of communities of disciples, which is implied in the baptismal formula in verse19. The church (ekklesia), which gathers in Jesus’ name (cf 16v18; 18v17 and 20), is the place where kingdom values are to be lived out and made visible in acts of justice, mercy, compassion and reconciliation.
Will the disciples be up to the task? Jesus had no ‘plan B’. History gives the answer.
Jesus’ message of God’s upside-down kingdom was radical, revolutionary and strongly counter-cultural. It challenged the power structures and values of society so much that they wanted to be rid of him. True discipleship was and is no soft option, as even martyrs of recent history, such as Archbishops Janani Luwum in Uganda killed by Idi Amin and Oscar Romero of El Salvador shot by the military, bear witness.
The ongoing presence of the risen Christ with his ‘kingdom household communities’ until the end of the age (v20) enables and sustains them as they seek to extend ‘the house of Israel’ to all nations. What was visible at a local level would one day sweep the world.
some questions for group discussion:
- Does this commission to ‘make disciples of all nations’ raise problems for communities of Christians today, living in a pluralist society? Should Christians seek to convert the world – including Jews? and Muslims? Do Jesus’ words still apply?
- How are we to make new disciples of Jesus Christ today? And, who is to do it?
- Is there a difference between a commission to baptise, and a commission to make disciples? Should baptism be offered so readily by the church today in our post-Christian society?
- How do you see ‘the Trinity’ - as a ‘problem’ for theologians, or fundamental to the outworking of your Christian faith as a community?
- Keep silence together – then one by one offer in prayer the commands of Jesus that you can remember from today’s reading. (Allow people to pass if they wish).
- Remember before God those you know who are not followers of Christ but with whom you have forged a friendship. Pray for all who are being drawn into the Way of Christ; for your own sensitivity and awareness of those for whom you pray; and for an openness to the work of the Holy Spirit who goes between you.
- Close by praying the Lord’s Prayer together.
- They are to baptise them in (or into) the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (v 19). This is no ritual formula but may better be paraphrased as, ‘introduce them into the very life of God – this God who is revealed in Trinity.’
- The Trinity is not a conundrum to be explained. This is the way in which the living God has been, and continues to be, revealed to us – as the Creator: the originator of all that exists; as Redeemer: God made known to us in the person of Jesus; and as the life-giver and animator in the person of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, moves between us and makes us alive to God’s presence.
- A helpful book on this theme is Leonardo Boff’s Trinity and Society, published in translation by Burns and Oates, 1988. Boff is one of the ‘fathers of liberation theology’, and author of Ecclesiogenesis: the Base Communities Reinvent the Church (Collins, 1986).
- Today we are recognising increasingly the need to see God’s household in a much broader sense as embracing the whole of Creation. Our words economy and ecology have their roots in the Greek words for house and household, oikia and oikos. As Michael Crosby says, Just as at the world at the time of Matthew’s Jesus was seen as a whole with humans interacting with nature and the divine, so we are beginning to realize the first part of the horizon – that we are to be one with the world. The justice demanded of Matthew’s households should compel us to work for a new kind of ecological house-ordering.(from House of Disciples, Orbis, 1988, page 26)
For an interesting essay on how the church has failed to show due care for the Earth as God’s household read Wendell Berry’s essays at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1510/is_1986_Summer/ai_4284345 and/or at http://www.crosscurrents.org/berry.htm.