June 3, 2012
This carefully crafted passage is the climactic summary of the essential themes of Matthew's gospel. Jesus, now Risen Lord, reveals that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and thus he has authority to commission his disciples to continue and to extend his mission to all the nations of the earth.
Jesus' epiphany and commission to the eleven take place on a mountain, the symbolic place where humans encounter the divine presence. The mountains of encounter unite in a single narrative the biblical covenants, and make all history a sacred history. These awesome places of the divine presence evoke the memory of crucial turning points of human history: Ararat, Moriah, Sinai, Zion, Carmel. Matthew, fully in harmony with this tradition, brings the narrative of the divine plan to its climax. He tells of Jesus' trial of temptations, his sermon, and his transfiguration on a mountain. From the severe testing of faith on the Mount of Olives, Jesus descends to suffer and die in obedience to his Father's will.
Now on a mountain, Jesus with divine authority commissions the eleven to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God's promise to Abraham after the testing of faith on Mount Moriah will at last be fulfilled. Through Jesus, son of Abraham, "all the nations of the earth shall find blessing" (Gn 22:1-18). All nations will hear the good news, and be taught to observe what the Lord has commanded. Matthew concludes his gospel and begins the era of the church with the promise of Jesus: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
The good news we hear proclaimed on Trinity Sunday is that Jesus the Risen Lord wants us to share divine life with him in the oneness of intimate, familial love with his Father and Holy Spirit. Through the gift of baptism we belong to God, and God belongs to us. With Jesus we can say Our Father. We are at home in God.
To be certain that we do not imagine the era of the church to be an illusory Utopia above the ambiguities of the human condition, Matthew interjects a surprising note of realism. He tells us that though the eleven disciples recognize Jesus as Risen Lord and worship him, at the same time they doubt. He uses the same Greek verb for "doubt" as he did when Jesus stretched out his hand to Peter, frightened and sinking in the stormy water: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt" (Mt 14:22-33)?
A theme of Matthew's gospel is the contrast between the total, single-minded faith of Jesus and the double-minded, little faith of his disciples. Jesus tells the disciples that because of their little faith they do not understand him, and for the same reason they are unable to cast out a demon (Mt 16:8 and 17:20).
The disciples, except for one of the original twelve, are willing to follow Jesus and listen to his commands; but at the same time their "common sense" tells them that what Jesus expects is way beyond their capacity to accomplish. It is not difficult for us present-day disciples to identify with the feeling of inadequacy and doubt in the face of the powerful forces that oppose the fulfillment of the divine promise of blessedness in our own circumstances. Like the first disciples, we worship the Risen Lord; and we doubt. Yet we go on because we trust with our little faith that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.
The Risen Lord, who conquered even death, is with us as he promised. When we do not understand what is going on, when the demons in us and around us seem invincible, when we begin to sink in the stormy water, when the task at hand seems too much for us, Jesus stretches out his hand and says: "O you of little faith, why do you doubt?" With our little faith, we can only respond: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB