Year A: The Ascension of The Lord
The Ascension of The Lord
Matthew 28: 16-20
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
- In your own words, what do you think we are celebrating; on the feast of the Ascension?
- Do you believe your baptism has commissioned you to do anything? What are you commissioned to do?
- How do you personally carry on the mission of Jesus Christ? Explain
Matthew 28: 16-20
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
On the feast of the Ascension we read Matthew’s “great commissioning.” Throughout this liturgical year, as we have discussed Matthew’s Gospel, we have commented over and over on the fact that Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses who has authority from God to give a new law. In today’s commissioning story we see the fulfillment of this theme.
In Matthew the apostles are to go to Galilee, rather than to Jerusalem, to meet the risen Lord: “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.” Just as God revealed Godself to Moses on a mountain, so Jesus revealed himself to Peter, James, and John on a mountain at the transfiguration (see Matt 17:1). Just as Moses taught the first law from a mountain, so Jesus taught the fulfillment of that law from a mountain (see Matt 5:1). Moses’ authority was from God. Only if Jesus’ authority is also from God is it a fulfillment of covenant love for the Jews to embrace Christ. Therefore Matthew places this culminating scene on a mountain. Matthew is always emphasizing Jesus as the new Moses in order to help his Jewish audience integrate their tradition into the new understanding brought about by the events surrounding Jesus.
Notice that in Matthew’s commissioning Jesus specifically states, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” With this statement Jesus is alluding to the Book of Daniel. In Daniel one like a son of man approaches the throne of God and receives authority from God. Daniel saw:
One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away?
His kingship shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13b—14)
Remember that Son of Man is the only messianic title that Jesus has consistently used in the Gospel to refer to himself. Jesus is now claiming that he is the Son of Man to whom God has given “dominion, glory, and kingship.
Since Jesus has been given all power, he can delegate his authority to his disciples. We can tell from the wording of the commissioning that Matthew is teaching his Jewish audience that Jesus and his disciples have the authority to change what had been taught through Moses and the law. Jesus says, “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….” By the time Matthew is writing his Gospel (AD 85), baptism has replaced circumcision, and the concept of one God, still maintained, has been radically changed to a trinitarian concept of God. These changes have occurred with God’s authority given to Jesus and then to the disciples.
The apostles are not simply to be disciples but to make disciples: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that 1 have commanded you.” They are to teach what Jesus taught, not just what the law taught, and they are to teach all nations.
By the time Matthew is writing, the knowledge that covenant love is not limited to the Jews has been revealed through events. Matthew had previously pictured Jesus instructing his disciples to go only to the house of Israel (see Matt 10:6; 15:24). Later the Spirit led the pilgrim church to the realization that the privilege of being baptized into covenant love is for everyone, nor just for the Jews. By teaching them to baptize in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” Jesus is reminding his followers to remain open to the Spirit. As the disciples carry out their ministry in Jesus’ name, Jesus promises to be with them always.
Leaving and Staying
In Franco Zeffirelli’s film “Jesus of Nazareth” a key player of the Sanhedrin enters the tomb of Jesus and finds it empty, he mumbles to himself, “Now it begins.” This closing scene of the Gospel of Matthew could carry the title, “Now it continues.” The crucifixion did not accomplish what the crucifiers hoped. It did not end the presence of Jesus and his mission. The angel in the tomb and then the risen Jesus himself tell the women to tell the disciples that Jesus was going ahead of them into Galilee (Matt 28:7,10). Galilee is the place of Jesus’ preaching and teaching, and the mountain “to which Jesus directed them” alludes to the Sermon on the Mount, the summary of his teaching, Therefore, the disciples will find Jesus neither in the tomb nor in heaven. They will find him continuing his evangelizing work.
The eleven (the Twelve minus Judas) take the women seriously enough to go to Galilee. But their experience of seeing Jesus is ambiguous. Some saw and worshiped; others saw and doubted. Therefore, the experience of seeing was not definitive proof Jesus had risen from the dead. Something must have been missing that would have compelled belief. We recognize people by sight when their present description matches the description we know. This “description match/7 which usually brings a degree of certainty, might not be part of the seeing experience. The two on the road to Emmaus are not able to make a description match (Luke 24:16); neither is Mary Magdalene in the Garden (John 20:14). Perhaps, a more subtle discernment of the presence of the risen Lord needs to be made. This discernment does not use the image of “seeing and believing”; it uses the more discipleship-oriented image of “hearing and obeying ”.
Jesus begins his speech to his disciples by citing his credentials. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to him. Therefore, when they hear his commands, they should obey* But these commanded actions are not arbitrary. Through them the disciples not only will join Jesus in his continuing action of bringing the kingdom, but also, they will come to a realized understanding of his risen presence among them. “Hearing and obeying” is a path beyond the doubt that accompanies “seeing and believing.”
As Jesus made disciples of them, the disciples are now to make disciples of others, especially the Gentiles. Jesus’ disciples have matured into masters. This “making disciples” commission has two aspects that are integrally connected. The first aspect is baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This aspect attunes newcomers to the consciousness of the Trinity. They die to themselves as isolated individuals and rise themselves as suffused and supported by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and therefore capable of living the life of community that God lives. The second aspect focuses on turning this trinitarian consciousness into action. The disciples are to teach these new disciples to listen to the teachings of Jesus in such a way that they change their behavior. If they carry out this commission, something will happen in their experience of “making disciples” that will alert them to the presence of the risen Lord among them. They will remember that he is with them always.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.