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Interpreting “The Great Commission”


Question & Answer


Mark from Cheyenne, WY writes:


If you do not favor conversion activity, how do you interpret the Great Commission?

Answer: By Matthew Fox
I think there is a big difference between favoring conversion activity and preaching good news. Now what we call the “Great commission” is found differently in all four gospels and many Biblical scholars believe these are add-ons to the gospels that reflect more the goings on and practice of the early Church and its liturgical rites than the exact words of Jesus after the Easter event. Be that as it may, I recommend sitting down with all four versions of this injunction to get a feel yourself for the diversity of tone and words and meaning found therein.

For myself, I most appreciate the Markan words because they take us beyond the human and they emphasize the “good news” while saying nothing about conversion. Says Mark: “Go out to the whole world” (this theme is found in most all the other pericopes as well so it shows this injunction very likely followed the early church’s expulsion from the synagogue) and its going out to the gentile world and beyond to “proclaim the good news to all creation.” This raises the obvious question: What is the good news that all creation is eager to hear? Mark certainly sets Jesus’ teaching and ministry into a more-than-human context, a cosmic context therefore. And clearly it is not about converting so much as “proclaiming good news.”

The “whole world” is a big place (today we know our universe is made up of two trillion galaxies!) so there is plenty of space to roam in. While Matthew’s “Great Commission” talks about teaching the commandments Jesus has taught, at the heart of these are love of God and love of neighbor and vice versa. Our neighbor is not restricted to the two-legged ones, but all creation deserves to hear that humans are busy loving all creatures–not destroying other creatures in narcissistic fits of greed and violence that end whole species while endangering human generations that follow with a depleted earth.

Whether the story of the Good Samaritan or the teaching of Matthew 25 that others, especially the needy, are other Christs, it is clear that Jesus’ teaching is indeed trying to stretch our meaning and practice of love and compassion. That’s the Great Commission and the Great Commandment(s).

~ Matthew Fox

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author

Matthew Fox holds a doctorate in spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris and has authored 32 books on spirituality and contemporary culture that have been translated into 60 languages. Fox has devoted 45 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship. His work is inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and has awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. He has helped to rediscover Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas. Among his books are Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved and Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest

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