Matthew does not describe the Ascension of Jesus as the Acts of the Apostles do but, using different images, he suggests the same message. Unlike Luke and John, he places the encounter with the Risen Lord not in Jerusalem, but in Galilee.
This geographical setting has a theological value: the evangelist wants to say that the mission of the apostles begins where their master had begun.
Galilee was a despised region. It was inhabited by a diverse population, derived from a mixture of races. It is exactly on these semi-pagans that Matthew wants to say the gospel is now focussed.
Jerusalem, the city that rejected the Messiah of God, lost its privilege to be the spiritual centre of Israel.
Matthew often places Jesus on a mountain whenever he teaches or performs some particularly important act, because the mountain is a reminder of God’s presence. This was where he gave his commandments and issued his mandate.
On the mountain the disciples who have experienced the Risen Lord and have assimilated his message are empowered to complete the Lord’s mission.
The remark that “although some apostles doubted” (v.17) is confusing. How could they still have doubts if they had already met the risen Lord in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday?
This detail is indicative. The Christian community is not made up of perfect people, but of people in whom good and evil, light and darkness continue to be present.
We encounter this situation among the first disciples: they have faith, but they still have doubts and uncertainties.
It is possible to believe in Christ and have doubt. Faith cannot exist alongside evidence. Like the apostles, we, too, have a deep conviction of the truth of the resurrection of Christ, but it cannot be proven.
The second part of the passage narrates the sending of the apostles to evangelise the whole world.
During his public life, Jesus had sent them to announce the kingdom of heaven with these instructions: “Do not visit pagan territory and do not enter a Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the people of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). After Easter, their mission expands; it becomes universal.
The light was enkindled in Galilee when after leaving Nazareth, Jesus settled in Capernaum. “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in the land of the shadow of death a light has shone” (Matthew 4:16).
Now its light must shine in the whole world. As the prophets have announced, Israel becomes “the light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
The time is decisive and Jesus refers to his authority: he was sent by the Father to bring the message of salvation; now he entrusts this task to the community of the disciples.
The Church is called to make Christ present in the world. Through baptism, she generates new children that are inserted in the communion of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
It is a sublime, but difficult mission; it inspires awe and trepidation in those who are called to carry it out.
Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF