Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

May 21: Ascension of the Lord

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Sharing the good news

Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20

Today’s Gospel reading is the conclusion to Matthew’s Gospel: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations.” The beginning of that Gospel has a narrower horizon: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

At the beginning of his work, Matthew presents Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises made by God to Abraham and David and through them to the people of Israel. They were promised that they would live in peace, prosperity and freedom in a fertile land that would provide all that they needed.

As Matthew tells his story of Jesus’ words and deeds, of his suffering and death, of his resurrection to new life, the horizons of his Gospel begin to broaden. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, David and to their descendants, but the evangelist concludes by affirming that the good news that Jesus proclaimed was not only for the people of Israel but for all peoples as he relates Jesus’ final words to his disciples: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations.”

The church has always taken seriously Christ’s commission to proclaim the good news to all nations. The first Christian community took the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and Galilee. Paul extended the Gospel’s reach to Asia Minor and then to Greece.

Popes sent missionaries like Sts. Cyril and Methodius to evangelize the rest of Europe. The rule of the Franciscan Order ends with a chapter about the brothers who wanted to take the Gospel to Muslims. Missionaries accompanied those who explored what they considered the New World.

There are many religious communities of both men and women that were founded for the sake of mission. These missionaries took the good news to Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East. Today, an increasing number of lay women and men, young and old, are taking their rightful place in accompanying priests and religious to the missions. The church exists to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. 

The Gospel of Mark has an ending similar to that of Matthew — similar but not the same. In Mark, Jesus says to the disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Mark, too, sees that Jesus’ message was for all peoples. But notice this difference. In Mark, Jesus commissions the disciples to proclaim the Gospel. In Matthew, Jesus’ final words were to make disciples of all nations.

Matthew makes is clear that the church’s mission involves more than proclaiming good news. The church’s mission also includes leading people to act on the good news that they hear. They are to respond to the Gospel by living according to the values by which Jesus lived and which he commended to his disciples — the love of neighbor exemplified by care for those in need. These values are derived for the most part from the ethical traditions of ancient Israel.

Pope Francis has made these moral values the centerpiece of his service as the bishop of Rome. He wants the church to be a church of the poor and for the poor, as he wrote in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti.” He has shown his own commitment to Gospel values by his manner of life.

He lives in a Vatican guesthouse rather than in the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace. He rides about Vatican City in a subcompact. He celebrates daily Mass with Vatican workers and takes his meals with them. He prefers simple vestments to elaborate papal finery. He does all this to show what it means to follow the poor and humble Christ.

Pope Francis calls all Catholics to be missionary disciples — people who have heard the good news and have responded to it with faith, love and service.

We believe in a God whose loving care extends to every creature. God’s love has been shown to us in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The experience of that divine love impels us to lead other people have that same experience.

We are called by God, saved by Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be missionary disciples. Today, we too have heard Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations.




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