Sunday Reflection: Jesus Hands Us the Wheel

John Singleton Copley / Wikimedia Commons

This morning’s Gospel reading is Matthew 28:16–20:

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

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Every once in a while, I like to browse through my earlier reflections before writing a new one. For one thing, I want to make sure that I don't inadvertently repeat myself! Occasionally I'm unable to write a new reflection and run a previous entry in its place, due to vacation or illness, but I don't want to chew over the same old points by accident. 

Given the centrality of today's Gospel reading to the mission of the Church, I re-read my earlier reflections for more clarity on a good direction on the Great Commission, as well as to avoid repetition. I began reading the other essays, and found a side point I'd made four years ago that struck me for today. We hear the phrase, "Jesus, take the wheel!" a lot when people are frustrated or despairing. I mostly encounter it on social media, but I've heard people say it out loud, too. One can easily sympathize with the sentiment, and it even expresses an admirable level of faith in Christ and in His justice and mercy. 

However, both our Gospel reading and today's first reading from Deuteronomy 4 remind us that His justice and mercy will come at the end of time. In this world, in our time, we have the wheel, and we must choose what to do with it. Moses teaches the Law to the Israelites in these passages, and summarizes by reminding them of the great works the Lord has already accomplished on their behalf. He saved them from slavery and destruction on numerous occasions, making it clear that the Lord is God and that there are no others:

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“Ask now of the days of old, before your time, ever since God created man upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arm, and by great terrors, all of which the LORD, your God, did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 

This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.”

 The Lord saved the Israelites from destruction and led them to the Promised Land, and had Moses give them the Law. He gave them a commission, too -- to serve as a nation of priests and prophets to convert the world, which would gather at the temple in Jerusalem to learn His Truth. As long as the nation of Israel remained true to the Law and to the Lord, Israel would open the path to reconciliation for the whole world. 

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But doing that would be the choice of the Israelites. The Lord gave His commission and provided them with the resources and protection to carry it out as long as they remained faithful. When they failed -- when they chose to abandon His commission -- they led themselves into ruin, despite a succession of prophets that warned about their destruction.

Jesus came to reverse the model of salvation. Rather than create a nation to host other nations, He created a Church that would serve other nations. Jesus' model of washing the feet of His disciples is the model of His Church in the world, as well as the model of His Passion and sacrifice for all of us. The Great Commission transformed the path of salvation by having the Word of God on pilgrimage to all the children of the Lord.

But that choice is still ours, and that is as explicit in Jesus' command in today's Gospel as it was in Moses' instruction in our first reading. Although all power has been given to Him, Jesus does not go out on the road Himself to convert the nations; He sent flawed human beings out, filled with the Holy Spirit in the temple of our hearts, to finish the mission originally given to the Israelites. 

Jesus asks us to take the wheel, not the other way around. The road to salvation is a cooperative road, one that requires us to participate in it. We do not just come to salvation passively, without effort. We do not earn it through works either, but we must take part in it by loving the Lord and each other enough to help free all of those still enslaved by sin and death.

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And even in those moments when we pray for guidance, or even for Jesus to take control, that still requires our cooperation. Jesus lives within us through the Holy Spirit, which is why the entire Church is the Body of Christ. We are called to live for His sake, aligning our wills to His so as to accomplish the Great Commission. When we do that, Jesus can indeed "take the wheel" through us, even while we struggle to remain on the path of salvation.  

 Of course, Jesus has already defeated sin and death. But He sends us out to make sure that everyone knows this, and to help save as many as we can through Him. To put it another way: We take the wheel, but He built the road. As long as we steer ourselves on that path and rely on the Holy Spirit for our strength on the journey, His love will open salvation for us.  

 

Previous reflections on these readings:

The front-page image is a detail from "Ascension" by John Singleton Copley, 1775. Currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Via Wikimedia Commons

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  

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David Strom 10:00 AM | June 21, 2024
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