The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’Mt 28:16-20
The Great Commissioning comes at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel, which has no account of Jesus’ physical ascension into heaven. Although the passage is particularly brief, it provides a distinct theology of the Holy Trinity and establishes the evangelizing mission of the future Church. The passage illuminates a marked change in Jesus’ own instructions to his disciples. When he first sent them out in pairs he instructed ‘go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Mt 10:5-6). Now, his final lesson implores them to take the Good News of Salvation to all of humanity.
The disciples were commissioned not just to preach about the life of Jesus and teach the commands he gave them, but to ‘baptise’ all nations ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, a formula that is still used today in our primary Sacrament of Initiation. Various forms of ‘baptism’ via immersion in water existed at the time of Jesus, as a means of initiating new members into religious groups. It was John the Baptist however who identified ‘I baptise you with water for repentance, but one is coming after me … who will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (Mt 3:11). It is at Baptism that we first receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, as our comforter, our guide and our source of strength.
In a sense, our Baptism is our Great Commissioning. As members of the Christian community, we too are charged with the duty of making Christ known to others. This does not limit itself to speaking about Christ, but more importantly living like Christ. It is through our Christian witness that we most effectively proclaim the Good News, a point emphasised by St Francis of Assisi, ‘always preach the Gospel and use words if necessary’. We should not be daunted by the challenges that confront our Christian witness and discipleship. Rather, we should be comforted by the same assurance that Jesus gave to his first disciples ‘know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
Director, Mission and Identity