giovedì 25 maggio 2017

«Ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus»

We are reading this year the gospel of Matthew. Well, among the three synoptic gospels, Matthew is the only one not to mention the ascension of Jesus. Luke, on the contrary, writes about it twice—at the end of his gospel and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (we have heard this latter account in the first reading).

Today’s gospel selection is the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel. It is about the appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection—the only one with the appearance to the women. Matthew tells us that this appearance takes place on a mountain in Galilee. But he does not tell us that after this appearance Jesus is taken up to heaven. Matthew’s gospel ends with the last words of Jesus to his disciples. But, precisely because they are his last words, they are so important for us; somehow, they could be considered his last will and testament before leaving us. So, we have to listen to them with a special attention and keep them within our hearts. In the last sermon to his disciples, Jesus makes a statement, gives a mission and makes a promise. Let us see each one of these elements.

First of all, Jesus makes a solemn statement about himself: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” It is important to make these preliminary remarks, because they are at the root of what follows. Jesus can give us a mission and we can carry it out only because all power in heaven and on earth has been given to him. Jesus is explaining to his disciples what has happened with his death and resurrection; Jesus is revealing the profound meaning of his paschal mystery: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” The One who, with his death on a cross, seemed a loser, in reality has become the Lord of the universe.

Secondly, Jesus entrusts his disciples with a mission to accomplish: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” It has been called the “Great Commission” of Jesus to his disciples. First of all, please notice that “therefore” at the beginning of Jesus’ words. It means that we have to accomplish this mission exactly because, as we were saying, all power has been given to him. Jesus, with these words, is requesting three things from us. Number one, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Since his power is universal, Jesus gives us a universal mission: we have to make disciples of all nations. The gospel is not only for some people, but for all. The evangelization should be addressed to everybody, without exception. Number two, “baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Once become Christian through faith, people should be baptized: Baptism is the sign of belonging to the Church, which is the family of the disciples. Baptism is to be given in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, which means that the newly baptized, before belonging to a human community, belong to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Number three, “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Our duty is not only to proselytize and then, once attained conversion, to leave the newly converts to their own devices; we have to accompany their growth; we have to educate them in faith and Christian life. The Church has the duty to hand on the moral teachings of the gospel.

Finally, Jesus makes a promise: “I am with you always (Ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus), until the end of the age.” Jesus is about to leave his disciples. He gives them a mission to accomplish, not easy at all. The disciples could feel lost: “What! You give us a great commission, and you go away, leaving us alone! How can we do what you expect of us? We were not able to keep close to you at the moment of your passion, and now, left alone, we should go to the ends of the earth, to convert all nations? It sounds crazy.” And behold, Jesus reassures his disciples: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” If Matthew does not speak of the ascension, nevertheless, with these words, he discloses the deepest meaning of this mystery: Jesus is now in heaven, but without leaving the earth. He continues to be with us and to work, with us and through us, for the salvation of the world.