In the last meeting with his disciples, Jesus speaks authoritatively about their mission to the whole world and gives them an assurance of his continuing presence. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
16 The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. 17 When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. 18 Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 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.’
Other readings: Acts 1:1-11 Psalm 46 (47) Ephesians 1:17-23
This gospel reading contains the final verses of the Gospel of Matthew. There is no explicit reference to an ascension of Jesus, but this is the last meeting of Jesus with his disciples. The different gospels recount different appearances of the Risen Jesus. At the empty tomb the message had been given that Jesus was to go before them into Galilee. The only meeting of the Risen Lord with the eleven disciples in Matthew’s gospel is this meeting on a mountain in Galilee. The gospel ends where the ministry of Jesus had begun, with his instructing the disciples on the mountain.
The initial encounter with Jesus is somewhat subdued. Matthew, like the other evangelists, reports a certain hesitation on the part of the eleven. There were some who hesitated. The gospel accounts speak of a transformation in the appearance of the Risen Jesus which may explain their hesitation. The disciples were not gullible individuals, desperate to continue their association with Jesus, but objective observers who wanted to make sense of what was happening.
The words of Jesus are solemn and forceful. He claims authority in a way he never did during his ministry. He sends the disciples forth to ‘make disciples’ of all the nations. The earlier hesitations in this gospel about preaching to non-Jews are put aside. Now is the time for a mission to the whole world.
The disciples are to baptise and to teach. Baptism is the sign of entry into the community of the disciples of Jesus, and of being drawn into the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The reference to the Holy Trinity reflects the practice of the early Christians.
The final words of Jesus are an assurance of his continuing presence. The Gospel of Matthew began by explaining that the Saviour to be born is Emmanuel, ‘God with us’. The Risen Lord now reassures the eleven that, despite his departure, he continues to be present with them, for he is with us always, until the end of time.
What does the ascension of the Lord mean to you?
In what ways is Jesus present for us today?
Pray that we may never forget that Christ has taken our humanity with him to the Father.
Pray for the readiness to receive the Spirit of Jesus at Pentecost.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy