Saint Francis Xavier – Readings

Commentary on Zephaniah 3:9-10,14-18a; Ps 85; Matt 28:16-20

The Gospel reading is the final passage in Matthew’s gospel. It is after the resurrection of Jesus. The Eleven Apostles have gone northwards to Galilee, the scene of much of Jesus’ public life and their home province. They have been summoned there to meet Jesus on a mountain, `whose identity is not given.
Mountains are holy places in Scripture – Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, he was transfigured on a mountain, he used to retire to the mountains to pray, before his Passion he went to the Mount of Olives to prepare himself for what was to come. Now, as he prepares to leave them he calls them to a mountain.

As soon as they saw him, some of them were still not absolutely sure of his identity. This is a common feature of all the post-resurrection scenes, where they know they are in the presence of Jesus but he does not look the same as when they knew him before his death. It is part of the process of learning, as Jesus had told them more than once, that, from now on, they have to recognise him in their brothers and sisters. "Who sees you, sees Me." "As often as you do or do not do loving acts to the very least of my brothers and sisters, you do or do not do them to Me."

Now Jesus comes forward and gives them their final instructions. First, he tells them that he has all the authority of God himself. "Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth."

Then he gives them their mission: "Go, then, make disciples of all nations. Baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This is their fundamental mission. However, making disciples of all nations need not mean that a mission to be successful must result in every person in every nation being converted and baptised. That has never happened and it will not happen. What it does mean – especially in the context of Matthew’s gospel, a gospel written for Christian Jews – is that no people anywhere are to be excluded from being invited to know Christ.

What drove Francis Xavier in a large part was this conviction that he had to baptise as many people as possible. All those not baptised were lost forever. We would not say that today but it does not lessen the mandate to proclaim the Kingdom of God to our utmost.

Finally, Jesus makes his solemn promise: "Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world." This echoes words from the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel. After he describes the scene between Joseph and the angel, where the angel reassures Joseph that it is alright for him to take Mary as his wife, even though she is pregnant with child, the evangelist says:
"All this happened to fulfil what the Lord has said through the prophet (Isaiah 7:14): ‘The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel’, a name which means ‘God is with us’.

With the coming of Jesus, God began to be among us in a special way. Now, at the very end of the gospel, the same reassurance is given. Jesus seems to be leaving his disciples but in fact, he is going to continue being with them – forever.

In hearing these words of Jesus, let each one of us be aware of Christ’s enduring presence among us and also help other people, too, be aware of him, even to the point of inviting them to join our family in Christ.

The First Reading is from the prophet Zephaniah. In the first two verses, Yahweh speaks of what he plans for the nations. "I will change and purify the lips of the peoples, that they all may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one accord." This is a description of what Francis Xavier was trying to do.

"From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia and as far as the recesses of the North they shall bring me offerings." For ‘Ethiopia’ and the ‘North’ we can substitute peoples all the way from the west coast of India, through present-day Malaysia and Indonesia and on to Japan – peoples that Francis reached out to.

The second half of the reading are words of consolation as Yahweh speaks words of forgiveness and reconciliation to peoples everywhere. "The Lord has removed the judgement against you, he has turned away your enemies…" Through the preaching of Xavier and his companions "The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear."

And he continues: "He will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love."

That was Xavier’s vocation but it is also ours – to let people know his care for them and his love.

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