In Matthew’s Great Commission Jesus tells his followers to make disciples. I would say he is essentially invite others into a life of reconstructed abundance wherever they happen to be. But what does that mean?
Where Will You Go If You Die Tonight
It was a snowy evening in early December 2006. I saw her approach me as I made my way up Denver’s 16th Street Mall. Admired the falling flakes playing with the lights on the trees, I pushed a stroller carrying my not quite three month old son. While I had bundled him up to handle the cold, I knew I needed to keep a steady pace. Even at a young age he had a penchant for squirming his way out of hats and other layers.
As she approached she was stable and direct. She gave no signs of a fading high or that she needed money for her next hit. At the same time, she adjusted her direction every time I adjusted mine. Clearly she had no intention of letting me pass without some kind of interaction.
Once I made it to arms reach, she extended a piece of paper towards me. In the glow of street lamps it looked strikingly similar to US currency. Trying to be polite I took it. The plan was to keep moving, as if it was a flyer promoting a comedy show or a night club. Then she asked, “Do you know what that is?”
Annoyed but feigning politeness I looked down at the piece of paper in my hand. “It looks like fake money.”
Enthusiastically she responded, “That’s a million dollar bill, and on the back side, is the million dollar question.”
I flipped over the paper and saw a mass of tiny print. Apparently it began with a question. “Oh,” I replied and prepare to continue my way up the street.
“Read it!” she said, giddy that things had made it this far.
Squinting in the darkness I held up the note trying to find a bit more light. When I hit the right angle I read, “Where would you go if you died tonight?”
Thoroughly irritated I said, “I’m a pastor, I’m pretty sure I’m good. I’ve got to get my son home.” and walked away before she could go on.
Misreading the Great Commission
I have no doubt she was there in response to an evangelism message. Odds are high, it was on the Great Commission. Someone told her to go and make disciples. Making disciples meant getting people to say a prayer confessing Jesus as Lord so they could spend eternity in heaven. The problem is, that is not what the Great Commission in Matthew 28 invites us to do.
I must admit, it seems odd to be starting off with the Great Commission. After all, I said this series on the teachings of Jesus would be nothing like what most Christians teach. Churches all over the country use these words to inspire people young and old to go on mission trips. They are used to remind people their neighbors are going to hell. I have used them to make people feel guilty for not engaging in more frequent and uncomfortable conversations. You know, conversations that start with where you will go if you die tonight.
But what if the Great Commission is not about “going.” What if we do not understand what Jesus is saying? If that is true, it is the best place to begin a journey of taking apart the religious industrial complex. There is no better place to start introducing people to a reconstructed abundance.
So where do churches get things wrong? I think it starts with the translation of the text from Greek to English. Like many other languages including Spanish and French, Greek is a fusional or inflected language. This means variations of a root word informs the reader how the words in the sentence relate to one another.
In the Great Commission, there is one command verb with every other verb revealing how to fulfill that command. Because English places primacy on word order, it automatically turns the word “go” into the imperative. However, the Greek clearly identifies “make,” as in “make disciples,” as the central verb in the sentence.
As You Go, Make Disciples
So a more accurate translation would say something to the effect of, “In your going,” or, “As you go.” In other words, Jesus and his disciples are hanging out on a mountain top and Jesus is about to ascend into heaven. Once he does, they cannot just stay there. They need to go back to their families and their lives. But as they do that, as they go and live out their everyday lives, they should make disciples. I would describe this life as living by soul in a spirit of love. It is the kind of life that never involves an uncomfortable conversation about where you go if you die tonight.
But what exactly does it take to make disciples?
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.