In today’s Gospel reading, we hear Christ giving His apostles the Great Commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name 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.”
Did you know this has only recently been called the Great Commission? The first known usage of the term was in the 1600s, but the term did not enter popular use until only 200 or so years ago. Still, it is a commission: the apostles are being sent forth on behalf of Our Lord. And it is great: in a very definite way, it gives us a foretaste of the triumphant return of Our Lord.
The Eleven — for that is the number that remained after the tragic failure of Judas Iscariot — are given an insight by Christ into His divine power and authority. We — you and I — know today that Christ holds universal power and authority. We know that is true because we were taught that and we believe it. We were not present when Christ gave the Eleven this Great Commission; we know it because Christ gave the Eleven this Great Commission.
Christ’s commission did not end with the Eleven. It continues even today. It continues in apostolic succession and so is properly directed by the successors to the Apostles: the bishops. However, every one of us has a role to play in it. Because we believe, we are called to action fitting our belief. Therefore, we are called by Christ to play our own part in the Great Commission that He gave.
Before we can know what we are to do, we must first be clear on the nature of the task Our Lord gives us… which is slightly different than the task He gives the apostles. Our Lord begins by stating the basis for Him sending the apostles forth, and that basis is divine authority. All power in heaven and earth has been given to Him; therefore, He has the authority to assign duties. If He holds all power, then it is certainly within His power to send the apostles out to accomplish the Great Commission.
Since Christ holds all power, He sends the apostle out to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the gateway to discipleship and baptism is properly done in a Trinitarian formula.
So, then… does that mean once we’re baptized that we’re disciples? Not exactly. Baptism is only the gateway, and Christ’s commission doesn’t end there. He also instructs the Apostles to teach the new disciples to observe all that Christ has commanded and taught.
So… does that mean if we follow the rules, we’re good disciples? Again… not exactly. Discipleship isn’t merely following the rules… although the rules are good to follow. Discipleship isn’t merely studying Scripture… although it certainly can be spiritually profitable to study God’s Word. Discipleship isn’t merely going to Mass on Sunday… although a disciple would never miss Mass without grave reason.
So, what does it mean to be a good disciple? I asked my friend Merriam Webster what a disciple is, and he told me “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another,” which kind of made me laugh because it doesn’t sound quite right. He also said apostle is a synonym of disciple, which really made me laugh.
So what really is a disciple? The apostles were sent out to make us into disciples… so what are we supposed to be?
The meaning of disciple is Greek to me… quite literally. The word comes to us from Greek and means an apprentice of a master. We, as disciples of Christ, are studying by observing the Master – Our Lord Jesus Christ – so that we can become more and more like Him as time progresses… so that we, too, may approach mastery. A true disciple doesn’t do anything so crude or crass as to merely accept the doctrines of another and help spread them; a true disciple immerses himself and is formed by the way of the Master, daily becoming more and more like Him.
We are disciples not because we accept teachings; we are disciples because we live the faith we have been taught. We are disciples not because we spread doctrines; we are disciples because we seek to become like God.
This is a bold statement. This is a perilous undertaking. History is full of accounts of dictators and madmen who sought to become like God. The difference between them and us is not the goal, but in the understanding of the goal. They seek God to become like God for the love of power. We seek God to become like God the power of love.
All power and authority has been given to Christ. We don’t need to seek it. It is in good hands. It is safe and is precisely where it belongs… with the master and He will do with it as it is fitting to do. What we seek is the Person of Christ… the authentically human and authentically divine person. We seek to become like Him, not only for what we will receive but also for what we can give.
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Christ doesn’t leave His apprentices alone. He is with us and He leads us. We could hardly be expected to get very far in our quest to become like Him if He was not available to us to serve as guide and model.
He is with us in so many ways: in the Eucharist; in the Word proclaimed at Mass; in the faces of all of the other disciples who follow Him; in the Sacraments; in the work of the priests and bishops; in His saints; in His Blessed Mother. We encounter Him in prayer, in the Mass, in Holy Scripture, in giving and in receiving. We should always be discovering new and different ways to grow in authentic Christian discipleship – to become better apprentices of the Master and to daily grow in our Catholic faith.
Let us pray always for the grace to be true disciples of Christ by living an authentically Catholic faith.