Chapter 33: The Appearance of Jesus on the Mountain
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples on the mountain and commissioned them to proclaim the Good News throughout the world. Whoever responds to their words believes in Jesus and will receive baptism as a disciple well prepared for the Kingdom of God. Thus, baptism is the result of listening to the teaching and of conversion of life. Jesus promised to stay with the Church until the end of time. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, the guarantee of the life of the Church and her constant renewal.
How did you come to hear the Good News? From whom? Are you ready to be disciples of the Kingdom of God? What are the effects of baptism in your life? That is what we will discuss in our meeting today.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Appearance on the Mountain (Mt 28:16-20)
16Meanwhile the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. 17When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. 18Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”
2. 1- Explanation
This text presents the last event in the Gospel according to Matthew, where he recounts the final piece of information necessary for the believer. We can compare this with one who is close to death and who gives his last testament to his children: he gives them all the love and advice that is in his heart, before he leaves this world. The text sets out the last words of Jesus, the last commandment of the One who has risen from the dead. After the event of the Resurrection and the dilemma of the Jewish leaders (Mt 28:1-15), comes this appearance as the end of the Gospel of Christ and, at the same time, as the beginning of the Gospel of the new life in Christ. So this text, on the one hand, represents the point of arrival or the climax of all the other narrative texts of the Gospel of Matthew; and, on the other hand, it marks the starting point of another narrative. This text concludes the history of the mission of Jesus and marks the beginning of the history of the mission of the disciples.
In the first part of this text (Mt 28:16-17), the “camera” rests on the eleven disciples, in Galilee, on the mountain, without being able to record any of their words. Galilee was the place of the missionary activity of Jesus in Israel, and it becomes the place of opening up to the other peoples (Mt 4:15), in accordance with the prophetic vision (Is 49:6). The mountain is the place of the complete revelation of the Lord, the Son of God (Mt 17:1). But the eleven disciples are no longer twelve (as in Mt 10:1), called in Matthew’s Gospel the “men of little faith” because of their conflicting attitude swithering between worship and doubt.
In the second part (Mt 28:18-20), Jesus is the centre of this event. His words take on a liturgical character and his utterances are of solemn importance. The proclamation of the Pantocrator (Mt 28:18b), the Lord of the World, the Almighty, is an echo of what we read in the Book of Daniel (Dan 7:13-14) which prophesied that the Son of Man would come, with power and glory, that he might be worshipped by all peoples. This tells of the total and absolute power of Jesus, the foundation and justification of the Church’s mission. Regarding the “sending” (Mt 28:19-20a), this clearly demonstrates the typical value of “discipleship. The “making disciples” is the essential work involved in the evangelization of peoples (Is 42:6); baptism is only one step within the realm of genuine discipleship. The promise – I am with you always; yes, to the end of time – of the constant presence of the Lord (Mt 28:20b) assures the believer on his journey, for Emmanuel (Mt 1:23) pledges to remain with every disciple, with every believer.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
This scene focuses on the divinity of Christ and his respective place in the Holy Trinity and the Church. Jesus is the key to knowledge of the world of God. Jesus has revealed to us the Father and the Holy Spirit. At the same time, Jesus is the principle and the foundation of the Church. In this passage of the Gospel, the action of the Church is defined: her field encompasses “all nations”, is “universal”, and her role consists primarily in making disciples, preaching and teaching the Word of God. Therefore, the divinity of the Church is closely attached to mission, especially with regard to the three priestly functions: teaching, sanctification and administration. Indeed, teaching inflames the heart which, through repentance and baptism, is sanctified and, in turn, becomes a witness of the Good News of God’s love.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Sacrament of Baptism
The Sacrament of Baptism is the key to Christian life. After the conversion of a man, the Lord asks him to declare his faith; then He adopts him as a son. The Sacrament of Baptism is rich in meanings; here are a few:
– Baptism is a double public declaration: on the one hand, the candidate for baptism presents himself with his godparents to declare before the Church that he believes in God’s love. This statement is the believer’s response to God’s invitation extended to him through previous experiences in the Church. On the other hand, God confirms and consolidates this acceptance of faith through the proclamation of adoption, repeating the words He uttered at the Jordan at the baptism of Jesus: “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him” (Mt 3:17). And so, the celebration of baptism ends with the prayer of the “Our Father”, recited by the new Christian along with all the assembled congregation, whose members have all accepted this adoption of a new child of God.
– Through baptism, the believer becomes a member of the Church. Faith is a personal, but not an individual, matter. My faith is linked to my life and my experiences; it is a choice of life that I make and this is the personal dimension of faith. But I live all this thanks to the Church, and with her; this is the dimension of community. Baptism is therefore the entrance into this community, we celebrate this in the Maronite rite at the door of the Church (also in the Western Catholic rite), and at the end of the ceremony we enter in procession to the front of the altar singing.
– Baptism is also a sign of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Man is born into a world marked by passions, seductions and the inconsistencies of life. This is what we call “the sin of the world”. Baptism is the grace we need, to choose the divine will. Therefore, it is a promise on our side to live our conversion with a sincere heart; but it is also a request to the Lord for His grace in order to remain in a faithful relationship with Him. On God’s part, baptism means a true forgiveness for all the sins we have committed in the past, and also an assurance that His grace will accompany us throughout our lives. Indeed, the greatest grace we receive from this sacrament is the gift of the Holy Spirit himself; “Don’t you realize that you are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God is living in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) The Spirit is comforting, strengthening, enlightening and guiding us.
– Starting from there, St Paul says that baptism is a death with Christ, so that the person, “the old man” we were before, also dies, and with him we give up anything that prevents our growth according to the will of God. Baptism is a new birth into a new life in Christ; the new man takes on Christ and commits himself to move forward with him, to bear witness to his love in the world.
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350-428)
Adoption in Baptism
When the priest [bishop] says, “In the Name of the Father”, you should remember the words uttered by God the Father “This is My beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” When he says, “of the Son”, take these words to refer to him who was present in the man who was baptized, and acknowledge that he has obtained adoption for you. When he says, “and of the Holy Spirit”, remember the one who descended in the form of a dove and remained on him, and in short remember that your adoption too will be confirmed by the same Spirit. For, as St Paul said, “those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom. 8: 14). The only genuine adoption is that granted by the Holy Spirit; but it is not genuine if the Spirit is not present to produce the effect and encourage us to receive the gift in which we have faith. And so, by the invocation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you have received the grace of adoption.
Then you come up out of the font. You have received baptism, second birth. By your immersion you fulfilled the sentence of burial; by coming up you received a sign of the resurrection. You have been born again and have become a completely different person. You no longer belong to Adam, who was subject to change, because he was afflicted and overwhelmed by sin; you belong to Christ, who was entirely free from sin through his resurrection, and in fact had committed no sin from the beginning of his life. For it was fitting that he should have from the beginning a claim to the immutable nature that he received in full at the resurrection. So it is that he confirms for us the resurrection from the dead and a share in his freedom from corruption.35