Reflection on Matthew 28:16-20
Sunday 7th June, Trinity Sunday
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
This well known passage is often known as “The Great Commission”, where after the resurrection Jesus calls together his disciples and sends them out to carry on his work in the world: “Go and make disciples of all nations”
Looking back on that commission with the benefit of two thousand years of hindsight, you’d probably say that those eleven disciples were pretty successful! Within a few decades the Christian faith had spread across the Roman Empire (admittedly helped by a fair bit of persecution which scattered the believers here there and everywhere!).
Within a few centuries Christianity was the dominant religion across much of Europe and was spreading well into Asia and Africa too. And today Jesus is worshipped in just about every country in the world. Go and make disciples of all nations, he said, and they did.
But, of course, the story is not as straightforward as that. Because even as they gathered there on that Gallilean hilltop, overlooking the region where their adventures had begun some three years earlier, some of them still had doubts. Despite all that they had heard Jesus say, all that they had seen Jesus do, all that they had done themselves, they still weren’t sure.
And Jesus knows this. He knows that they are flawed and doubtful and lacking in confidence but he commissions them anyway because he also knows that if he were to wait until he found a group of perfect, faithful, confident followers he’d be waiting a very long time.
The Church has never been filled with perfect people, instead God commissions ordinary people like you and me and those first doubting disciples to be his hands and feet in the world. As the American Monk Thomas Merton said, “A saint isn’t someone who is good, a saint is someone who experiences God’s goodness.”
The Great Commission to “go and make disciples” is a commission to each and every one of us, however uncertain we may be, however unqualified we may feel. All of us who call ourselves follower of Jesus have been commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples – not just those of us who have theology degrees or dog collars – everyone! As the saying goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”
Making disciples sounds like a scary thing but it’s really as simple as letting people know what your faith means to you. I’ve been blown away by some of the stories people have shared with me about how they’ve heard from God in the past few months – through noticing something in the garden, through a word from a friend, through a picture in a dream – and strength they’ve drawn from those experiences of God’s goodness.
The Church of God is not, and has never been, the building, or the clergy, it’s the ordinary people going about their daily lives and sharing with others the goodness of God that they’ve experienced in their own lives. It may not sound like much, but it can change the world! Amen.