Friday, March 25, 2005

The great commission

If someone were to have asked me this week what were Jesus' final words, I would've replied... "Well, everybody knows that... 'It's Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani from Matthew 27:46!' or My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I practiced those Aramaic words over and over again so I wouldn't get all tongue-tied and mess up in front of everybody at the 9 am service last Sunday.

While indeed those words were Jesus' last words on the cross before he died (around 3 pm), they were not (as far as we know) his last words.

The last words of Jesus, before he ascended to heaven, are known as the "Great Commission", which Christians used as the basis for mission and evangelism.

The version of the Great Commission which we seem to refer to most often is in the Gospel of Matthew...

Matthew 28:16-20
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

There are verses with a similar message in the Gospel of Mark (16:15-"He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.' ") and in Luke's Acts of the Apostles (1:8-
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."), as well as in Luke 24:45-49 and John 20:21-23.

Given that the Great Commission is the basis for our mission (and evangelism) work, I would encourage everyone to reflect on what the message means to you, particularly to those who are active in mission work overseas and locally.

Prior to my first mission trip to Honduras in 2003, I had no idea what the Great Commission was all about. Fr. Lou mentioned it one evening, and I recall asking him about it.

Many of us have different views of what mission and evangelization are, along with what are the best approaches (or styles) to engage in this work.

But... What does making "disciples" of peoples mean to you? What does "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" mean to you?

To me, the Great Commission means seeing the light of God in everyone and sharing the light of God with everyone... just as Jesus did. That is what being a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth means to me. It means focusing on Jesus' teachings, his message. It means delivering these teachings to the world through example and through the use of words (... but only when necessary). Your model is Jesus, so think of how Jesus would act in every situation in which you find yourself. Think of what Jesus would say in every situation in which you find yourself. Very simple. Very hard.

If someone were to ask me to list words that dominate the personality of Jesus, I would give the following: humility, compassion, merciful, kindness, tolerance, thoughtfulness, nonjudgmental, simplicity, forgiving, engaging, radical, gracious, gentle, patient, loving -- all endlessly so, without restrictions, and unconditional.

It is precisely those characteristics that I think allow us to show people how to always face the light, be one with the Creator of the universe. It is this light that has been conveyed to us through Jesus that I think we've been tasked to convey to the world through the Great Commission. Being the light means being all those things that Jesus was and avoiding all those things that he was not (... you can easily guess what those are).

Note that it is relatively easy to act like Jesus in isolation. It is another thing altogether to act like Jesus and at the same time be engaged actively in the world. That's the true challenge. That's why I think being a "missional church" is an extremely tough undertaking. It puts us "out there" as a mission outpost rather than a safe refuge.

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