Sunday, June 3, 2012
Resurrection and mission
"I am with you always"
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The liturgy of Trinity Sunday uses the closing verses of Matthew's Gospel (Mt 28; 16-20). In the beginning of the Gospel, Matthew introduced Jesus as Immanuel, God with us (Mt 1:23). Here, in the last verse of his Gospel, Jesus communicates the same truth: "I am with you always" (Mt 28:20). This was the central point of the faith of the communities in the eighties (AD), and continues to be the central point of our faith. Jesus is the Immanuel, God with us. This is also the perspective for our adoration of the Most Blessed Trinity.
b) The text:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What drew your attention most in this text? Why?
b) What kind of image of Jesus does this text convey to us?
c) How is the mystery of the Trinity presented in this text?
d) In Acts 1:5, Jesus proclaims a baptism in the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:38, Peter speaks of a baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus. Here the text speaks of a baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. What is the difference among these three affirmations, or are they speaking of the same baptism?
e) What, exactly, is the mission that Jesus gives the Eleven? What is the mission of our communities today as disciples of Jesus? According to the text, where do we find strength and courage to fulfil our mission?
5. A key to the reading
to enter deeper into the theme.
i) The context:
Matthew writes for the Judeo-Christian communities of Syria and Palestine. They were criticised by the Jewish brethren who said that Jesus could not be the promised Messiah and, therefore, their manner of living was wrong. Matthew tries to uphold their faith and helps them understand that Jesus is indeed the Messiah who came to fulfil the promises God made in the past through the prophets. A summary of Matthew's message to the communities is found in Jesus' final promise to the disciples, the subject of our meditation on this Trinity Sunday.
ii) Commentary on the text:
* Matthew 28:16: the first and last appearances of the risen Jesus to the Eleven disciples.
First, Jesus appears to the women (Mt 28:9) and, through the women, tells the men that they had to go to Galilee to see him once more. It was in Galilee that they received their first call (Mt 4: 12.18) and their first official mission (Mt 10:1-16). And it is there, in Galilee, that everything will begin again: a new call and a new mission! As in the Old Testament, important events always take place on the mountain, the Mountain of God.
* Matthew 28:17: Some doubted.
When the disciples see Jesus, they prostrate themselves before him, the attitude of those who believe and welcome God's presence, even though it might surprise and be beyond the human ability to comprehend. So, some doubt. The four Gospels emphasise the doubt and incredulity of the disciples when confronted with the resurrection of Jesus (Mt 28:17; Mk 16:11:13.14; Lk 24:11.24:37-38; Jn 20:25). This serves to show that the apostles were not naïve and to encourage the communities of the eighties (AD) that still had doubts.
* Matthew 28:18: Jesus' authority.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me". This is a solemn declaration very much like the other affirmation: "Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father" (Mt 11:27). There are other similar affirmations by Jesus in John's Gospel: "Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands" (Jn 13:3) and "All I have is yours, and all you have is mine" (Jn 17:10). This same conviction of faith in Jesus appears in the canticles preserved in Paul's letters (Eph 1:3-14; Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20). The fullness of the divinity is manifested in Jesus (Col 1:19). This authority of Jesus, born of his oneness with the Father, is the basis of the mission that the disciples are about to receive and also of our faith in the Most Blessed Trinity.
* Matthew 28:19-20ª: The triple mission.
Jesus conveys a triple mission: (1) to make disciples of all nations, (2) to baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and (3) to teach them to observe all the commands he gave them.
a) To become a disciple: The disciple lives with the master and thus learns from this daily living together. The disciple forms community with the master and follows him, seeking to imitate his way of living and of living together. The disciple is someone who does not place absolute value on his/her manner of thinking, but is always open to learning. Like the "servant of Yahweh", the disciple strains his/her ear to listen to what God has to say (Is 50:4).
b) To baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: The Good News of God that Jesus brought us is the revelation that God is Father and that thus we are all brothers and sisters. Jesus lived and obtained this new experience of God for us through his death and resurrection. This is the new Spirit that he spread over his followers on the day of Pentecost. In those days, to be baptised in someone's name meant to assume publicly the commitment to observe the proclaimed message. Thus, to be baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit meant the same as being baptised in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38) and the same as being baptised in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). It meant and still means assuming publicly the commitment to live the Good News that Jesus brought: to reveal through prophetic brotherhood that God is Father and struggle to overcome divisions and separations among people, and to affirm that all are children of God
c) To teach to observe all the commandments that Jesus gave us: We do not teach new doctrines nor do we teach our own doctrines, but we reveal the face of the God whom Jesus revealed to us. It is from this revelation that comes all the doctrine passed on to us by the apostles.
* Matthew 28:20b: God is with us always.
This is the great promise, the synthesis of all that was revealed from the beginning. It is the summary of the name of God, the summary of the whole of the Old Testament, of all the promises, of all the desires of the human heart. It is the final summary of the Good News of God passed on to us in Matthew's Gospel.
iii) The history of the revelation of the Name of God, One and Three:
When one hears a name for the first time, it is just a name. The more we live with the person the more the name becomes a synthesis of that person. The longer we live with the person, the greater the significance and value of the name. In the Bible God has many names and titles that express what he means or what he can mean for us. God' personal name is YHWH. We already come across this name in the second narration of creation in Genesis (Gen 2:4). The deep meaning of this name (the result of long living together through the centuries, which also went through the "dark night" of the crisis of the exile in Babylon) is described in the book of Exodus on the occasion of the calling of Moses (Ex 3: 7-15). Living with God through the centuries, endowed this name of God with meaning and depth.
God said to Moses: "Go and free my people" (cf. Ex 3:10). Moses is afraid and justifies himself by feigning humility: "Who am I?" (Ex 3:11). God answers: "I shall be with you" (Ex 3:12). Even though he knows that God will be with him in his mission of liberating the people oppressed by Pharaoh, Moses tries to excuse himself again, he asks God's name. God replies by simply reaffirming what he had already said, "I Am who I Am". In other words, God is saying I am certainly with you and you cannot doubt this. The text then goes on: "You are to say to the people of Israel I Am has sent me to you!" The text concludes, "This is my name for all time: by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come" (Ex 3:14-15).
This brief text, which is deeply theological, expresses the deepest conviction of faith of the people of God: God is with us. He is Immanuel, an intimate, friendly, liberating Presence. All this is contained in the four letters of the name YHWH, which we pronounce as Yahweh: the One who is in our midst. This is the same certainty that Jesus communicates to his disciples in his last promise on the mountain: "I am with you always, yes, to the end of time" (Mt 28:20). The Bible allows us to doubt everything except one thing: the Name of God, that is, the presence of God in our midst expressed in the name Yahweh: "He is in our midst". In the Old Testament alone, the name Yahweh appears more than 7000 times! It is the wick of the candle around which gathers the wax of the stories.
Something tragic happened (and is still happening) when in later centuries during the exile in Babylonia, fundamentalism, moralism and ritualism gradually presented that living, friendly, present and loved face as a rigid and severe figure, unfittingly hung on the walls of Sacred Scripture, a figure that aroused fear and placed a distance between God and his people. Thus during the last centuries before Christ, the name YHWH could not be pronounced, Instead the word Adonai was used, a translation of Kyrios, which means Lord. A cult centred on the observance of the laws, a cult centred on the temple in Jerusalem and a racially closed system, created a new kind of slavery that stifled the mystical experience and withheld contact with the living God. The Name that should have been like transparent glass which revealed the Good News of the friendly and attractive face of God, became a mirror that reflected only the face of the one who looked into it. A tragic deceit of self-contemplation! They no longer drank at the source, but drank water bottled by the doctors of the law. To this day we go on drinking water kept in storage, rather than water from the source.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus did away with small-mindedness (Col 2:14), broke the mirror of idolatrous self-contemplation and opened a new window where God shows his face and draws us to himself. Citing a canticle of the community, St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, "God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2: 9-11). On the day of Pentecost, Peter ended his first speech by revealing what the great discovery of the experience of the resurrection meant for him, "Let all the people know: God has constituted Jesus Christ Lord". Jesus who died and rose again, is the revelation that God, the same as always, is and continues to be YHWH (Adonai, Kyrios, Lord), an intimate presence, friendly and liberating in the midst of his people, conqueror of every barrier, even of death. With the coming of Jesus and in Jesus, the God of the forebears, who seemed so distant and severe, gained the features of a good Father, full of kindness. Abba! Our Father! For us Christians, the most important thing is not to confess that Jesus is God, but to witness that God is Jesus! God reveals himself in Jesus. Jesus is the key to a new reading of the Old Testament. He is the new name of God.
This new revelation of the name of God in Jesus is the fruit of the completely free gift of the love of God, of his faithfulness to his Name. This faithfulness can be ours too, thanks to the complete and radical obedience of Jesus: "Obedient unto death, death on the cross" (Phil 2:8). Jesus identified himself completely with the will of God. He says, "What the Father has told me is what I speak" (Jn 12:50). "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me" (Jn 4:34). That is why Jesus is the completely transparent revelation of the Father, "To have seen me is to have seen the Father!" (Jn 14:9). In him dwelt "the fullness of the divinity" (Col 1:19). "The Father and I are one" (Jn 10:30). Such obedience is not easy. Jesus went through difficult moments when he exclaimed: "Let this chalice pass me by!" (Mk 14:36). As the letter to the Hebrews says, "He offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears to the one who had the power to save him out of death" (Heb 5:7). He overcame by means of prayer. That is why he became full revelation and manifestation of the Name, of what the Name means for us. Jesus' obedience is not disciplinary but a prophetic one. It is an action that reveals the Father. Through obedience, chains were broken and the veil that hid the face of God was torn. A new way to God opened to us. He earned for us the gift of the Spirit when we ask the Father for the Spirit in his name in prayer (Lk 11:13). The Spirit is living water earned for us by his resurrection (Jn 7:39). It is through the Spirit that he teaches us, revealing the face of God the Father (Jn 14:26; 16:12-13).
6. Psalm 145 (144)
Jesus establishes the Kingdom
I will extol thee, my God and King,
and bless thy name for ever and ever.
Every day I will bless thee,
and praise thy name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud thy works to another,
and shall declare thy mighty acts.
On the glorious splendour of thy majesty,
and on thy wondrous works, I will meditate.
Men shall proclaim the might of thy terrible acts,
and I will declare thy greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of thy abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
All thy works shall give thanks to thee,
O Lord, and all thy saints shall bless thee!
They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom,
and tell of thy power,
to make known to the sons of men thy mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendour of thy kingdom.
Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and thy dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to thee,
and thou givest them their food in due season.
Thou openest thy hand,
thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
He fulfils the desire of all who fear him,
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
The Lord preserves all who love him;
but all the wicked he will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.