A Catholic Bible Study on the Holy Gospel according to 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.”
“Love begins where the balance ends: an ode to imperfect love.”
“Genitors genitique suavitas” [the sweetness of the begetter and of the begotten]”
– Saint Augustine
At the end of the Philosophy and Literature course I was teaching, I asked my students to write a story about a philosophical idea. I was struck by the fact that many of the stories were about dissatisfaction and a never-ending quest for insatiable wellbeing, about the frustration of always finding their longings for fulfillment unanswered, of an unrealistic mission that is never complete. From all of this I can conclude that imperfection is an issue for them. We always seem to have an idea in mind and we don’t allow ourselves to be at peace until we achieve it. It’s too bad that these ideas are like the end of a rainbow: impossible to find!
History is made of imperfections and this is the humanity we must love.
At the end of the Gospel, the Church that is invited to announce the Good News is an imperfect Church. In the beginning it had the perfect symmetry of the number 12: it was the ideal number, the fulfillment of the new Israel, the model in the flesh. But now the Church finds itself crippled, missing a piece, staggering like a Greek temple missing a column: “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them” (Mt 28:16).
That is the Church that is sent to announce the love of God. It is a Church that has to leave: it can’t stay in Judea. It has to go out, walking, to Galilee where it will find imperfect people, that aren’t very faithful, that smell of fish instead of incense.
Sometimes even priests wish they had the perfect parishioners: parishioners that understand our homilies but not so well as to correct us, affectionate but not intrusive, silent but also joyful. But any assembly is always imperfect, like the nascent Church, and this is the Church we must love.
The Church that is sent to announce the love of God is a Church that doubts and is even a little hypocritical: “When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted” (Mt 28:17). They have an external attitude that doesn’t correspond to their inner predisposition. It is the imperfection of all Christians that keep up their practices while we are wounded by doubts within. This is the imperfection of every spiritual path, of every self-examined faith, of every believer that can’t pause for a moment when doubt overshadows him or her.
Only this imperfect Church can proclaim true love, a love that isn’t solitary, a love that isn’t self-centered: a love of one. It is not the love of the Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, blessed in its perfect solitude. Neither is it the love of two: an adolescent love, the love of a couple closed in around itself in which I love you and you love me and no one else exists. If the love of one is for narcissists who consider themselves the beginning and end of everything, the love of two is the love of sterile reciprocity: a love that bears no fruit and soon is spent and empty.
True love is a love of excess, a love beyond itself. It is a love that gives itself to others and that does not close itself up neither in isolation nor in reciprocity. That is why true love can only be Trinitarian! It is the embrace between the Father and the Son given to humanity. It is the relationship between the Father and the Son that creates a space where every person is invited to dwell. It is the communion that is not exhausted in reciprocity but becomes a gift for others. Embrace, space, communion: different names for the Holy Spirit!
The vain pursuit of perfection distances us from the fullness of love because it closes us up in the isolation of one, in the illusion of caring for our egos in an unbearable way. At other times that vain pursuit of perfection flings us into the whirlpool of reciprocity, in which one person becomes the measure of the other without ever reaching the fictitious goal of a steady balance. We have no other option therefore than to love imperfection, because, only when we feel our emptiness, can we be filled.
Questions for personal reflection:
- What is your relationship with imperfection? Does it scare you or are you willing to welcome it?
- What type of love is you love: isolating, reciprocation, or Trinitarian?