By James Cornwell
Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 28:11-20
11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The apostles go to an appointed place in order to meet Jesus. When they see him, they worship him, but some are doubtful. What is perhaps remarkable to us today is that he doesn’t address their doubts, he simply gives them instructions — all of them, even the doubters.
A good deal of social psychology suggests that attitudes follow behavior perhaps even more surely than behavior follows attitudes. Ensuring that people think rightly about a situation is secondary to whether they do the right thing in that situation, regardless of their reasons.
I sympathize with those who want to correct doubters. Doubters can have an enervating effect on mission (as St. Jude, St. Paul, and St. Peter testify), and there’s a certain logic in aiming for a united front in a righteous cause. But what if, instead of following Jesus’ command, the disciples decided first to stop the mission in order to police the doubts among them? What if they felt obligated first to parse and disprove the doubts, and then make sure the doubters (however many who remained) were well on the way to right belief, before they could start the work Jesus had given them?
On this, today’s gospel seems clear. If you believe a cause is just and commanded by God, then roll up your sleeves. Don’t look to your left and right to see if someone has doubts about the cause’s righteousness, trying to make everyone around you see it the right way. There’s a place for correction; there’s also much work to be done. Do what God has asked and let your light shine forth, that doubters might see your good works — might even start doing them — might even believe — and glorify your Father in heaven.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their five children.
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