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.
I ended the last reflection by speaking about a role that is often overlooked, especially in the comparison of Christians to sheep, with the shepherd being Jesus Christ. There is the large flock, of which Christ is the Shepherd, and we are all the sheep. However, all over the world, there are smaller flocks. An Orthodox bishop is called the “pimenarchis,” the chief shepherd of an Archdiocese or Metropolis or Diocese. And he has a flock of many parishes. His representative on a local level is a parish priest, who is a shepherd of his own flock, a local parish. Within the parish, there are many subgroups or ministries. In a sense you can look at these as small flocks. They won’t have thousands like a diocese or hundreds like a parish. The “flock” of Sunday school students might have a hundred “sheep.” The “flock” of choir members might number twenty people. Even smaller than this are individual families, a flock of four or five people.
Just like the flocks of sheep two thousand years ago, the ones who shepherds were visited by the angels, these smaller flocks operate in much the same way. The ration of shepherds to sheep is few shepherds and many sheep. We are rational sheep but we still need guidance. And while we will not likely be attacked by the same wolves that attack sheep in a flock, there are still “wolves” that prey on us, and we need to be protected from them.
The Gospel passage from Matthew 28:16-20 is read at every baptism. We already reflected on the first couple of verses of this chapter—where Jesus directed the disciples to a mountain to worship and they all went, even though some doubted. And Jesus took them, doubts and all, and commissioned them to be apostles. This commission involved four specific tasks—to GO all over the world; to MAKE disciples of all the nations, to BAPTIZE these disciples in the name of the Holy Trinity; and to TEACH them all that Jesus had taught the disciples. In the military, when a soldier finishes basic training, they are given a commission—it might be as a foot soldier, a tank driver, or an airplane mechanic. But each soldier fills a role and every role needs to be filled. The commission is an order, not a suggestion. Sometimes soldiers get a commission that was not their first choice or their idea, but it doesn’t matter. Once commissioned, that becomes an order, not an option.
At our baptism, through the reading of the Gospel passage, each of us, whether we end up as a priest or not, is given the Great Commission, the same as was given to the original disciples. We are supposed to GO, MAKE disciples, BAPTIZE and TEACH. You might think “don’t the priests exclusively do baptisms?” The answer is “yes, except under the most dire of circumstances.” However, people can influence a baptism. If there is someone who has never heard of Christ, and they hear about Christ through you, and then come to Christ eventually through baptism, then de facto, you are responsible for that baptism. I think this is what this means, not that we actually are expected to do a physical baptism. Of course, you could look at it from my perspective. I “baptize” people regularly, but my role is to do more than that—I still have to go, make and teach.
Let’s look at the other verbs—go, make and teach. For those of us who have children, we don’t have to go far to find people we can bring to Christ. It starts with our own children. It is the responsibility of each parent who allows their child to be baptized to bring that child to church and introduce that child to Christ. Once that child is an adult and out of the house, he or she will decide to make faith personal to them. However, they will never have a chance to make that choice if a parent never “goes” to that child to bring them to Christ. As parents, we are shepherds to our children, and even if we have one child, we are still supposed to shepherd them to Christ.
Some people work as teachers—they actively instruct students all day. There are two ways to teach—by instruction and by example. So much of what we know we learned by imitation. Children see their parents do certain things and then imitate those things. Peer pressure is essentially forceful, compelling teaching, because teaching not only offers knowledge but influences behavior. We have many opportunities throughout our lives to influence those around us, and specifically pertaining to the spread of the Christian faith. Whether it is directly talking about Christ, such as offering to pray for someone who is in crisis; whether it is a casual mention of the Lord, i.e. “I’m going to church this Sunday, would you like to come?”; or whether it is a quiet modeling of what Christian love is like, we all have the opportunity to witness for Christ. We don’t have to GO very far to do so. Part of loving our neighbor is bringing Christ to our neighbor and even bringing our neighbor to Christ. I believe that when we stand in front of the Lord at the Last Judgment, He will ask “what did you do to further the message of the Gospel? How did you fulfill the Great Commission?” Because that commission belongs to every baptized Christian, and the opportunity to fulfill it is also there for each of us.
The Father was well pleased; the Logos became flesh; and the Virgin gave birth to God who became man. A Star reveals Him; Magi bow in worship; Shepherds marvel, and creation rejoices (Praises, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: What does “make disciples” mean to you?