The post-Easter readings often get the Bible literalists squirming. Some time ago, Carl and I became engaged in a conversation with a life-long Christian who was visiting our church at a Sunday evening Kemp Concert, was from a different tradition, and I think was scoping out new churches to potentially join. She had found the two pastors together in the narthex, shooting the breeze, and she pressed us about something her pastor had said that morning at her church regarding how many women were at the tomb. “He said there was one person at the tomb. That isn’t what I remembered learning. So what do Presbyterians believe? How many women were at the tomb? Is my pastor right or wrong?”
Carl started us off, “It depends which gospel account you read.” She wasn’t quite hearing.
I added to the conversation, “It’s like eye-witness accounts. Everyone remembers it a bit differently, and then I know the story is true!”
We went round and round with the final exasperation of: “So is my pastor wrong!” We gave up. In the midst of this we both tried to maintain hospitality and keep her engaged in learning about the Bible and asking questions and wrestling with her faith. But she wasn’t looking to wrestle!
If you have noticed, there are many contradictions in the Bible. One of the things I love about the Presbyterian tradition is that we do not check our brains at the door. One could argue that Presbyterians embrace the conundrums!
Each gospel account seems to have a different group of women at the tomb – one has just Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, while another gospel speaks of Salome too, while another gospel only has one woman at the tomb. Where he appeared, to whom, and for what purpose seems to change.
It appears, the only thing they are in agreement about is that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that the essential message of the resurrection was entrusted to “woman” not “man.”
Matthew, then, shares another key ingredient in this post-resurrection world, as he recasts the function of the disciples. Initially their focus and function was to “…have authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 10:1). Now it is to “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Those words may sound familiar, especially that first part. Many in Oklahoma grew up in a tradition where this was an essential ingredient of faith.
Often I find that many do not want to take that second part seriously. They are fine taking the pill of the first part, but do not want to wrestle with their faith. That second part is where the wrestling really begins! They quote verse 28 as the “Great Commission” forgetting completely that Jesus’ sentence continues with “…and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
And what was that teaching? To love the unlovable. To care for the poor, the hungry, the helpless. To welcome the widows and the little children. To party with sinners. To feed everyone, whether they deserve it or not. To teach that those who think they have power and authority have very little. In short, he taught the in-breaking of the kingdom – an upsidedown world in which the meek would inherit the kingdom of God.
In other words, as we put the puzzle of our faith together, we realize it has less to do with beating others over the head with Christ, and more to do with living as Christ lived, with radical hospitality and sacrificing self so that others may see God.
The Great Commission is as much about radical love as anything else. And that, my friends, is the heart of both mission and evangelism – showing radical love and hospitality.