J. S. Eiland
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This is the last chapter in the Gospel according to Matthew and as such it pays to pay especially close attention to it. As is often the case in life, it withholds its best from us until the end. Why is this you ask? I believe it is for at least two reasons; the first being to ensure that we do not slack off just because the end is in sight, it is important to maintain focus all the way through any endeavor, right up until it is completely finished, it is of course at the end of a long and arduous workday that the mistakes will happen that can ruin the entire day’s work; the second being that this is the closing to a great story, and as is the case in any great story, it is not so much how it begins, but rather how it ends that is most impactful.
Most of the chapter focuses on the resurrection and its aftermath, about how the corrupt leaders bribed the guards to lie and say that Jesus’ disciples came and stole his body away. This of course was only after those same guards had come and told those same corrupt leaders about the angel that had appeared like lightning and moved the stone away right from in front of them because they were paralyzed with fear at the might and glory of the angel. Most of the chapter is contextual, setting the scene for these last days of Jesus walking the earth once again and also the charge he extends to his disciples in those last two, majorly impactful verses of the entire Gospel.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and low, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
It is these last two verses of the chapter that stuck out to me. Not so much of what Jesus says, the charge he gives his disciples and thus gives to all of us as well, though that it is powerful enough on its own, but rather that this is his concern during this late hour. After all he endured at the hands of humankind he does not falter in his agape (unconditional love). I don’t think any of us would blame him if he wanted nothing to do with anybody from his past after how his life played out. But Jesus views everything in quite the opposite way actually, he embraces his mission all the more and encourages those who would follow him to lean into their respective missions as well. He does not dwell on the wrongs done to him, he does not seek apologies nor retribution from those owing one or both to him, he does not even speak on the events that occurred only a few short days ago. Instead, his focus is entirely on the future and the present. The future focus is of course the charge to baptize the world, to share this amazing story of love, peace, perseverance, hope, happiness, and salvation with every person who will be born. Even more impactful though is his present focus.
Jesus issues such a heavy reminder that he is with us always. This is special enough for us today, reading these words written so long ago, but imagine how impactful these words must have been for the disciples and others of the group who had those direct, one-on-one, in-person relationships with Jesus the human. The people who loved him dearly, the same way we adore those who are closest to us, were hearing about this forever connection for the first time. Now imagine it is explained to you for the first time that we are all connected and due to your brotherhood\sisterhood in God we will all always be together, sharing creation’s energy and thus always connected. Pretty mind-boggling if you think about it because all we have to do is recall one time we were told something that we believed fantastic that turned out to be true. How hard is it to be told something that breaks against everything you believed of a certain subject matter? Now imagine if someone who you trusted implicitly told you such a thing. Quite a cause for shaking your foundation isn’t it?
Today, we take for granted this connection, for it is like a second nature to us, known to so many of us but we so rarely spend any time or focus on it. But we must understand that at the time of Jesus' resurrection this was not the case. Before Jesus, the only way to connect to God was via some sort of conduit, you had to seek an elder of the church or a prophet to intercede and commune with God on your behalf, or offer your sacrifices in hopes of your prayers being heard. Now Jesus is telling the people that “... I am always with you”. It may not sound like much to us today, but we all know that Jesus’ words always have more meaning to them than they seem to maintain on the service. He was a master of teaching more by saying less. What Jesus explained to his disciples and the likely many tens, hundreds, thousands of others present there that day, is that God is always with you, you have a soul that is literally a piece of God living inside your physical body. Not only am I always with you, but you can commune with God of your own accord any time you want. We are all connected, we are all one, you do not need another to pray to God for you, He wants to hear from you directly. This went against everything the spiritual world believed at the time and would have been an earth-shattering revelation for those whom Jesus told. It was as if to say, now you see what we have been doing here this whole time, the reason for the work you have done alongside me is to establish this basis of communication between all of you and God. Jesus is resurrected and says because of this you can now seek God on your own. I died so that you can be saved. Share this news with everyone.