Last words can mean so much to us. When I sit down with a family to talk about a deceased family member, they will occasionally tell me they thought their mom or dad waited for someone to arrive before passing on. Sometimes they tell me the deceased’s last words. It seems so significant when a family member or friend says, just before dying, “I love you,” or “I forgive you,” or “I’ll still be with you from the far side.” We cherish these kinds of last things. They resonate like tympani in our hearts.
In that spirit, it is so very important for us to attend carefully to Jesus’ last words: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”
His communication starts with power – if the Father gave all authority to him, then we must attend to his last command. “All authority” includes power over us. We’re left free, but if we’re wise, we’ll listen carefully and obey. We are told to “go.” We’re not to be static, but on the move. Complacency is insufficient. Sleepiness can only be temporary. Naps may be cherished, but they can’t rule our lives. The camino of fidelity to our Lord is calling, and we have to follow.
And then we get to the heart of Jesus’ last directive: “Make disciples of all nations.” He doesn’t ask us either to be, or to make, demanding consumers who come to church expecting to be entertained. He doesn’t look for blind obedience. He doesn’t seek people who will say that they are Christian, or who will choose only the most shallow forms of observance. He’s looking for people who will take their faith to heart and act. Disciples work to grow in their understanding and application of their faith. Disciples are active doers, servants of the Lord, and ministers to the broken world around them. Ultimately, if we accept that Jesus has all authority, as he claims, then we can’t be content until “all nations” have been taught to observe all that he has commanded, until “all nations” are caring, active and living as disciples, imitating Jesus’ words and actions.
The parish mission statement embraces this Gospel with enthusiasm: “Encounter Jesus. Be disciples.” The first invitation, “encounter Jesus,” stands on the truth that everything begins and ends with Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. Encountering him is much more than simply “knowing” him. I knew many people in my doctoral studies, who knew all kinds of facts about Jesus, but in spite of their academic pursuits, lost their faith. All their knowledge was for naught. “Encounter Jesus” means to dive into the experience of the sacraments. It requires us to pray, and invites contemplation. It leads to a relationship that is real, accompanying Jesus in all our activities. This will inevitably lead us into a loving bond, for to encounter Jesus is to love him. When we, in fact, love him, we make it about him, and not ourselves.
And there is where we become disciples, actively imitating Jesus in our daily lives. He fed people; so do we. He healed, taught, and answered his world’s questions; so do we. He accompanied others and comforted them in their struggles; so do we. He laid down his life for the sake of a broken world that crucified him; so must we, hard as this one is.