It’s often referred to as the Great Commission. Jesus gives his disciples a command, a task, a mission before he ascends to heaven. Their mission? To go, make disciples, baptize, and teach.
“Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the nation of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NAB)
Up until this point, the mission of the disciples had been limited to the nation of Israel – the Jews. But now, Jesus tells them to go to all nations and if they do this then they will have the presence of the Holy Spirit with them as they fulfill their mission. But, how exactly do we “go” to all nations and who does Jesus expect to actually do this mission? Many are content in saying this is the duty of priests, bishops, religious orders, and church leaders. But, Jesus shows us through his life that it is our duty to tell others about him. Let’s take Legion for an example. As Jesus traveled through the region of Decapolis he met a man called Legion. Jesus healed the demon-possessed man. He then tells the man to go and tell everyone what he did. In Mark 5:19-20 Jesus says to the man “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
But, what happens when “all nations” comes to us? We do not have to go outside our city, our state, or this nation to find “all nations”. “All nations” is often associated by theologians as meaning the Gentiles in scripture. The Gentiles were non-Jews – in essence they were unbelievers. We often are placed in situations, even in our own parishes, where people come in for various reasons and those individuals are not living our lifestyle. They may be dirty, from a rough background, have a sinful past, and may be “rough around the edges”, but Jesus expects us to reach out to them. Those who show up in ripped blue jeans, dirty shirts, and smell like cigarette smoke are those Jesus expects us to reach out to and share the love of Christ. We must remember that when John 3:16 says God “so loved the world”, it's those who do not run in our social circles are still those Jesus died for as well. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves of the heroes who have been inducted into the "Faith Hall of Fame", but show us God uses the dirty, messed up, and rough around the edges individuals:
- Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister to Pharoah out of fear
- Moses was a murderer and his pride, distrust in God, and failure to honor God as holy prevented him from entering the Promised Land
- King David was an adulterer and a murderer
- Paul put Christians in jail and was responsible for many of their deaths, even gave his approval and was an accomplice in the first martyr (Stephen) being stoned to death
- Matthew as the least respectable person in society at the time. He was a tax collector, a thief, a bully, a traitor to his own people
- John Mark caused such massive division between Paul and Barnabas
- St. Thomas More was a murderer but became a martyr
- Bl. Bartolo Longo was a high priest in a satanic cult
- St. Augustine of Hippo was a womanizer, follower of a false religion
- St. Augustine set out to deliberately break all 10 Commandments as a young boy
Our faith, our Lord, our Church boasts of a rich history of sinners turned saints. We may be asked to be around people who do not fit into our social circles, we may be placed in a position where our private school children have to spend time around public school juvenile delinquents, but we must ask ourselves how Jesus expects us to respond. If we respond as Jesus would want us to and expects us to, we will be fulfilling our mission of going to “all nations” while perhaps setting a sinner on the road to becoming a saint.