Justified by God before Men, Jesus Sends the Church in Mission
Easter Sunday, Year A (Matthew 28:1-10)
April 16, 2017
By Msgr. Lope C. Robredillo, SThD
LAST Sunday, we noted that the cause of Jesus was the Kingdom of God. If there was anything that unified and gave meaning to all that he said and did, it was the Kingdom. Because it was the center of his teachings and activities, everything radiated from it. Take it away, and nothing about them will ever be really understood. If Jesus was born to a poor family, if he taught love of enemies, if he dined with tax collectors and sinners to the scandal of the civil society of his time, it was because these well sprang from the demands of his proclamation of the Kingdom. His cause was so human, and it answered the longings of the poor, whose welfare the social institutions like the government and the state religion must look after. Ironically, however, the holders of the same social institutions rejected his cause. They judged him to be a rebel and a blasphemer. And so, to ensure the discontinuance of his cause, they tried him and found him guilty. They thought that by eliminating him, they could put an end to his cause. They would be able to stop the spread of what they thought was a brazen lie, a deception of the people, and the cause of the downfall of the nation. Thus, instead of confirming him, accepting him and justifying him, they rejected him. In the judgment seat of men, Jesus was clearly in the wrong.
But was he?
Today, we commemorate the resurrection of the Lord, which is the greatest feast in the Christian liturgy. But that Jesus came to life again—what does that mean? It is interesting to note that in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus admits of various meanings. In fact, each New Testament writer has his own distinctive way of interpreting the event. In John, for example, if Jesus’ death was his glorification (john 13:31-32), his resurrection was his exaltation (John 12:32). In Hebrew’s, it is Jesus’ installation to the function of a heavenly high priest (cf Ps 110:4), in Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians, it signals the imminent arrival of the parousia (1 Thess 1:10). Mathew, however, gives various meanings to it, which are far different from what we have just said. And one meaning that he stresses in the early tradition is this—Jesus may have suffered a lot in the hands of men, but that does not mean that he was in the wrong. Rather, he was in the right all along, even though he was like other righteous men who were persecuted and killed by wicked people. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent to you” (Matt 23:34). (It may be noted that Luke even places Jesus in the line of Abel and the prophets who were persecuted: “The people of this time will be punished for the murder of all the prophets killed since the creation of the world, from the murder of Abel to the murder of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the holy place [Luke 11:50-51].) To show, therefore, that the prophet was not in the wrong, the Father resurrected him.
For Matthew, in other words, the resurrection was a vindication of the messenger of the Kingdom. Though people perceived him to be a liar, God had a different way of looking at him—he was obviously in the right. Which is why, in Matthew, Jesus was not only exalted by God; on the contrary, he was even given a commissioning role that is usually ascribed to God in the Jewish tradition. Thus, the Gospel today describes Jesus as giving the great commission: “When they saw him, they worshipped him, even though some of them doubted. Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples; baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always to the end of the age” (Matt 28:17-30). In other words, the rising of Jesus from the dead signifies the continuation of his cause: The Kingdom of God, which summarizes everything that Jesus taught, must be preached to all the nations.
But not only that. Just as Jesus embodied the Kingdom, so those who received the message must live it. A people that embodies it must be born. This is the reason why the command to baptize is appended to it is that baptism initiates one to a community that lives the Kingdom and its values. This is why the birth of the Church is often associated with the resurrection of Jesus, for it is the Church, as a community, that lives the Kingdom. Jesus did not say that it lives anywhere else. This means that the resurrection implies a giving of the mission to the Church. Its mission is to embody the Kingdom in her community life. Now we understand the mission given by Jesus to his disciples at the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light for the whole world… Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:14a.16). The Church evangelizes not only by preaching the Kingdom to those who have not heard about it, but also—and this is important—by simply living its values in her very life.
That is why the Church must fulfill its mission, even if the world does not accept it. She cannot sack it. The Kingdom of God must be preached and lived even in situations that reject her mission. That it is not accepted does not prove that it is wrong. The Church has God’s assurance that her mission is not a lie, for he resurrected Jesus from the dead. On the contrary, she has to preach even if people do not listen to her’ she may even have to undergo various forms of dying and martyrdom. This meaning of the resurrection is well captured by a disciple of Paul: “I solemnly urge you to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it (whether the time is right or not), to convince, reproach and encourage, as you teach with all patience. The time will come when people will not listen to sound doctrine, but will follow their own desires and will collect for themselves more and more teachers who will teach them what they are itching to hear. They will turn away from listening to the truth and gave their attention to legends. But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances, endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God” (2 Tim 4:3-5).