A Disciple’s Commission

A Reflection on the Readings for the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist

There are a number of memes (an image, phrase, etc. that is adapted and spread rapidly by Internet users) that have the hashtag, “thingsJesusneversaid”.  Not all of them are great, but there are some gems.  The good ones can be funny and thought provoking, while the other ones can range anywhere from dumb to offensive. These memes came to mind when I read Jesus’ opening words in today’s gospel.  He says, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  This is Mark’s version of the Great Commission and I will use the #thingsJesusneversaid to hopefully help unpack this commandment.

The three variants that I will reflect on are not targeted at anyone but myself.  In my life I have failed to obey Peter’s words in our first reading, “Clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another… So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”  In doing so I have found myself turning Christ’ Great Commission into Spencer’s So Much Easier Commission.

Variant #1 – “Isolate yourself from the world and proclaim the Gospel to whomever comes out to you.” #thingsJesusneversaid

Jesus never said this because ultimately the Great Commission is the command of Christ to imitate Him.  When we allow ourselves to withdrawal and expect the world to come to us, we forget the mystery of the Incarnation.  Bonhoeffer, in his book on the Psalms, accuses some Christians (who deny the goodness of material existence) of trying to be more spiritual than God (Psalms, 43).  He can do that because those Christians forgot the Incarnation!  They forgot the central mystery of our faith; that we have a God who took on flesh!  I’m not immune to this forgetfulness, though.  In my attempt to not be of the world, I can fail to be in the world.  At that time I can rightly be accused of trying to be more distant than God, who came into time and space at the Incarnation.  Yes, a disciple is “set apart” or “holy” for the purposes of the Gospel, but a disciple also follows his master who leads him into the world.

Variant #2 – “Go into the parts of the world you want and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” #thingsJesusneversaid

I’m so tempted by this version because it puts me in control of where I’m being sent.  I want to control both where Christ is physically sending me and relationally sending me.  Wouldn’t it be great if we were only sent to proclaim the Gospel in parts of the world that looked good on a postcard?  How wonderful would it be if I didn’t have to proclaim the Gospel around my friends who knew me before I was following Christ?  It doesn’t work this way, because Christ calls disciples, not masters.  Nor does he call fair-weather fans, but those who will pick up their cross daily.

Variant #3 – “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to the people you want.” #thingsJesusneversaid

This final variant captures the temptation to choose who is worth evangelizing.  Ultimately this temptation makes me a judge, and not in the acceptable sense of judging the validity of an action, but in the sinful sense of judging a person’s heart.  There are two ways this judgement can take shape.  The common one we think of is judging someone in the sense of condemning them.  I choose not to share the Gospel with someone because I write them off.  I judge that they are too hard of heart to receive the Good News.  The uncommon one is to exonerate or approve someone.  I choose not to share the Gospel with them because I judge that they are already good to go.  This, too, violates the Great Commission, because Jesus doesn’t command us to choose who is unworthy of the Gospel or who doesn’t need it; He calls us to share it with everyone.

The Great Commission, the disciple’s commission, is read today on the feast of St. Mark, which fittingly is also the anniversary of a dear friend’s ordination.  This reflection is dedicated to him, but he wouldn’t want me to make a big deal about it, so I’ll keep this short.  His priesthood is an inspiration for how to live out the commission as a disciple today.  Instead of withdrawing from the word, he seeks out people to share the good news with them.  He has been led to parts of the world that he never anticipated, and will follow where Christ calls him.  Finally, I’ve never known him to write anyone off.  He has a healthy sense that everyone can grow in their discipleship and there isn’t a soul that Christ doesn’t beckon to come and to follow.  He puts into practice Pope Francis’ exhortation that “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation [of the Gospel] must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’ … it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways” (Evangelii Gaudium, 164).

God, You call us to be your disciples, not merely to gather us close to You, but also to send us out into the world.  Give us the grace to live out Your Great Commission in imitation of Your own coming in the mystery of the Incarnation.

–  Spencer Hargadon

Originally Posted on April 25, 2015 at Ite Missa Est

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