The end which is a new beginning – about an ever-present God
Photo credit. KUL Heschel Center
In today’s verses of the Gospel, prior to His Ascension, Jesus dispatches disciples to baptize (literally immerse) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Christ assures us that Ruach HaKo’desh and Emmanuel, or God with us from the initial verses of the Gospel according to Mathew, will be their constant support and defence. God, who is ever-present among his people throughout salvation history, is addressed in a commentary prepared by the Heschel Center of the Catholic University of Lublin by Fr. Dr. Mariusz Świder, Rector of the John Paul II Seminary of the Diocese of Siedlce.
In the description of the Ascension, the disciples bow to Jesus at the indicated place, on a mountain in Galilee. In Jewish tradition, bowing expresses reverence and respect. In this final encounter, Jesus Himself stresses and assures the doubters of His Divinity. He asserts: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18). Fr. Dr. Świder moves on to discuss why Jesus chose Galilee, the land of the pagans, as the place of parting with His disciples, rather than the Holy City of Jerusalem, where they had been staying a short time before.
The full text of the commentary for the Gospel according to Mathew (Mt 28: 16-20), read on the Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year A: the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord:
On the Seventh Sunday of Easter we read the conclusion of the Gospel according to Mathew. This end is in fact a beginning, especially for Jesus’ disciples. The Evangelist describes the event after Resurrection and transports us to Galilee, the venue of Jesus’ last meeting with His disciples.
Why Galilee of all places? Could not Jesus say goodbye to His disciples in the Holy City of Jerusalem, where they had been staying a short time before? Possibly, He chose Galilee as it was the land where He called his first apostles? Possibly, Jesus deliberately chose Galilee, which in the biblical tradition is known as a pagan land, as confirmed also by the prophet Isaiah (Is 8:23b). Did Jesus want to reach out to pagans? Did He want to dispatch his disciples to teach (literally make disciples among) all nations, pagans included? It seems that the answer to both questions is affirmative.
The disciples bow to Jesus at the indicated place, on a mountain in Galilee. In Jewish tradition, bowing is an expression of reverence and respect. This is also how Abraham welcomed his guests (Gn 18:2). In this particular scene, Jesus Himself asserts: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18). Jesus grants the same authority to His disciples to baptize (literally immerse) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). Interestingly, Pentecost has not yet taken place. Nevertheless, Christ sends them off, in anticipation of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, Ruach HaKo’desh, is to be their companion, support, and defence. The final sentence of today’s excerpt from the Gospel, Jesus’ last word to His disciples on Earth, proves that not only the Holy Spirit, but also Jesus Himself is and forever will be present among His disciples: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). The first chapter of the Gospel according to Mathew (1:23) refers to Jesus as Emmanuel, or “God with us”. The last chapter, albeit in different words, confirms this truth. God is ever-present among His people. He uniquely demonstrated this by delivering the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land and miraculously leading them there: at night in a pillar of fire and during the day in a cloud. He is also present in the life of every human being. May we, too, be able to see His presence.
About the author:
Fr. Dr. Mariusz Świder, Bible scholar, Rector of the John Paul II Seminary of the Diocese of Siedlce, postulator of the beatification process of Servant of God Bishop Ignacy Świrski. He studied the Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.