And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority 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."
June 2, 2023, Words By: Rev. Sarah Wiles, Image By: Helena
My children have just finished third grade. One of them was friends with a girl we’ll call Julie, who had clearly been taught by her parents that she needed to witness to everyone. So, she did. She told anyone who would listen that they could only go to heaven with Jesus, and everyone else would go to hell.
My kiddo came home from school one day toward the end of the year and proclaimed, “Mom! Julie figured out a way to tell everyone she’s Christian without saying mean things!” Julie had begun to write, “I love Jesus” everywhere. But what stuck with me was that my kiddo’s experience was that a Christian was someone who said mean things. “They will know we are Christians by… the mean things we say?”
Go, this verse says, and make disciples. And many Christians of European origin went. And converted, and colonized, and destroyed native cultures all over the world. Untold violence has been the result of this verse.
So, what do we do with it?
Before this commission Jesus said something else. “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.” All authority. It sounds so, well, authoritarian.
We mostly resist authority. We prefer to say, “I’m the boss of my life. No one else gets to tell me what to do.”
Of course, that’s not quite true. There are people we love, and we bend our will to them. When we work or volunteer, we answer to someone. As a society we give our corporate consent to be governed. Less tangibly, we give authority to things like money and a desire for approval. The truth is, whether we realize it or not, we are constantly influenced by some form of authority in our lives.
And while it is good and healthy to let some things and some people have authority over us, too much is not good. We lose our freedom and our dignity when we let too many things dominate our lives. The traditional American answer to that dilemma is to proclaim I’m the boss of me. No one and nothing can tell me what to do.
But Jesus makes a different claim: All authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to him.
All authority. More than the landlord or the bank that owns our home. More than the anxieties and worries that keep us up at night. More than the needs of our loved ones. More than the claims of country or patriotic duty. In the face of all those claims Jesus says something revolutionary: all authority has been given to him.
The one who came into this world helpless as a babe, who lived poor and on the margins, who suffered and died just as we do and yet never strayed from the way of love, this one now claims all authority in heaven, and on earth, and even over our lives.
It is only by fitting our lives to that shape do we find real freedom. Only in acknowledging the cruciform authority of Jesus in our lives, an authority that is characterized by love and humility, are we set free from all that holds us bound.
When we become disciples, and learn and teach along the way, we are not working to assert our power or our culture’s power over others.
Making disciples Jesus’ way is not an activity of harassing or saying mean things. Rather, it is an acknowledgment that there is a power greater than ourselves. And trusting in that power, giving our lives over to that authority, we find ourselves, at last, truly free.
To whom or what do you give authority in your life?
Consider what it would mean for Jesus to have authority even over those people and things in your life.