The Ascension of the Lord - May 12, 2024

 The Ascension of the Lord - May 12, 2024

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20

Theme: “Go Into the Whole World and Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature.”

The Gospel stories of the past two Sundays, taken from the “Vine and the Branches Discourse” in chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, have been preparing us for the solemnities of the Ascension of our Lord, which we celebrate today and Pentecost, which we will commemorate next Sunday. The context of that discourse is rooted in Jesus’ final comments to his disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus prepared them and us to understand the mission we must carry out after his death, resurrection, and ascension. In that discourse, Jesus invited his disciples, including us, to remain in him and his love as he remains in us to bear much fruit that will remain. We remain in Jesus and his love only when we actively carry out his mission, which he leaves us in today’s liturgy of the Ascension of our Lord. He remains in us through the Holy Spirit, whose coming we will celebrate next Sunday on the solemnity of Pentecost.

Today, we joyfully celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, the day Jesus was taken up into heaven. The Scripture readings we heard remind us of the profound significance of this event. The Ascension of our Lord does not signify a time for a reward, as the disciples mistakenly believed when they asked Jesus: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (First reading). Instead, the Ascension of Jesus is a pivotal moment of building a spiritual kingdom by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature and saving the souls of the people of God (the Gospel). To fully grasp the urgency of the mission that Jesus left us and to be empowered to carry it out wherever we live, we need the Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of God (second reading).

It is worth noting that the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are not separate works but one book in two volumes written by the same author, Luke. Theophilus, the recipient of Luke's book, is a name that carries a significant meaning. In Greek, Theophilus means “The Lover of God.” This implies that Luke wrote his two-volume book for all those who love God, including us today. Our first reading is taken from the beginning of the second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. It can be divided into two parts. The first part is an introduction where Luke summarizes what he wrote in the first volume, the Gospel of Luke. The second part recounts the story of Jesus’ ascension.

 Luke begins our reading by telling us that in the first volume of his book, he dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he ascended to heaven. He focuses on different moments when Jesus appeared to his disciples after he had been resurrected from the dead. He instructed them about God’s kingdom and the Holy Spirit during this time. For Luke, the interval between Jesus’ resurrection and the last day he ascended into heaven was forty days. “He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days (…)” (V. 3). This is a crucial detail on which I would like to reflect.

Luke tells us that Jesus’ ascension occurs on the fortieth day after his resurrection. The Church also celebrates the Ascension of the Lord forty days after Jesus’ resurrection. Note that the solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord this year occurred last Thursday, May 9th. For liturgical purposes, the local Church in the United States of America celebrates it today, Sunday. So, from Easter Vigil (March 31st) to Ascension Day (May 9th), it is 40 days. In the Scripture, the number forty conveys the symbolic meaning of preparation. We can recall Noah’s forty days in the ark, Moses’s forty days on Mount Sinai, and Jesus’ own forty days in the desert before he started his ministry. And now, our Lord needed a forty-day period after his resurrection to prepare his disciples for the mission he was about to assign them. Celebrating the Ascension of our Lord today, forty days after Easter, our Holy Mother Church wants to remind us that we have been well prepared to take up the mission Jesus has left us.

The second part of our first reading recounts the story of Jesus’ ascension (vv. 6-11). It commences with the disciples’ question to Jesus: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They mean the “physical kingdom” in which they want to overturn the Roman’s power. In his answer, Jesus tells them that the times and seasons God established by his authority should not be their preoccupation. Jesus moves their minds to focus instead on the mission that he assigns them. He tells them that they will receive the Holy Spirit, who will empower them to be his witnesses throughout the world, starting with their own people, the Israelites of both kingdoms (Jerusalem in the north and Judea in the South), and notice how Luke includes even the Samaritans whom the chosen people considered as the “lost sheep.” Next, Luke reports that after Jesus had said this, he was lifted up, and his disciples looked at him as he ascended to heaven. Two angels, described as men dressed in white garments, questioned them about why they were standing there, looking at the sky. They confirmed Jesus’ second coming at the end of time when they told the disciples that the way Jesus was taken up to heaven was the same way he would return (vv. 6-11).  

Here, the Church wants to remind us that the Easter season will conclude next Sunday when we receive the Holy Spirit, who will empower us to carry out the mission that our Lord leaves us today. We should not be like the disciples who, through their question to Jesus (v. 6), were interested in the establishment of the “physical kingdom” while Jesus wanted them to build the “spiritual one,” God’s kingdom. The disciples unveiled the motivation for their discipleship. They have been following Jesus for about three years with a mindset to take the power from the Romans. Why do you and I follow Jesus? What are the specific motivations for us being Christians? Do our motivations correspond to what Jesus calls us for? In his answer, Jesus moves his disciples’ focus from their selfish motivation to the essential mission of a disciple. He tells us that our motivation for being Christians should not be to know with exactitude when God grants our requests. We are Jesus’ disciples essentially to implement God’s kingdom and be his witnesses everywhere we live until the ends of the earth. This is what Mark tells us also in our Gospel.

Our Gospel passage (Mk 16:15-20) is taken from the “Longer Ending” section (Mk 16:9-20). Bible Scholars agree that the Gospel of Mark originally ended with the story of Jesus's Resurrection, in which the women experienced the empty tomb and received a message from an angel described as a “young man clothed in a white robe” asking them to tell Jesus’ disciples to go to Galilee, where they would meet the Risen Jesus (16:1-8). The “Longer Ending” section was possibly added in the second century. The Council of Trent has accepted and defined it as a canonical part of the Gospel (see NABRE, note to Mark 16:9-20). Today, we read the second half of the “Longer Ending” section. The first part contains two short stories of Jesus’ appearances to Mary Magdalen (16:9-11) and “Two Disciples” (16:12-13). The second part, our Gospel passage, is the Ascension of Jesus’ account. It begins with verse 14, which the lectionary omitted. This verse relates that Jesus appeared to all eleven disciples and rebuked them for their lack of belief in his resurrection.

Jesus commissions his disciples to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (V. 15).  Notice that the eleven disciples are asked to go into the “whole world,” and the Gospel must be proclaimed not with “discrimination” but to “every creature.”  My question is: “How could these eleven men travel worldwide? Is it impossible?” The answer is “Yes” because, through the disciples, Jesus commissions everyone who believes in him. So, you and I, too, are commissioned, and today, at this Mass, we renew our commitment to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to everyone without discrimination. Remember, the world starts in our family and is extended to our Church community, neighborhoods, societies, and all people, including those overseas, who need our prayers and support. Also, to “proclaim the Gospel” does not mean necessary preaching. We can proclaim the Gospel through our three “Ts,” Time, Talents, and Treasure. So, we are commissioned to spend some of our “Time” with Jesus in prayer, especially in the Eucharistic celebrations, meditation, Bible reading/study, rosary, visiting the sick and prisoners, and many other ministries and devotions. Jesus commissions us to use the “Talents” he has entrusted us with to build up God’s kingdom. Finally, Jesus sends us on a mission to support his Church and help the people in need with the “Treasure” he has blessed us with. Let us start the work now.

 Mark specifies that faith and baptism are fundamental for salvation. He also mentions specific signs that will accompany the believers, such as driving out demons (exorcism), speaking new languages, handling serpents, surviving poison, and healing the sick. The narrator comments that the disciples went forth, preaching and working signs everywhere (vv. 16-20). Let us go forth, preaching the Word of God wherever we live to deliver people from the demons of killing, hate, divisions, and racism. People who hear and believe in the Gospel will speak new languages of peace, love, justice, and charity. They will be able to handle the difficulties they go through. And they will be empowered with the gift of healing. For all these to happen, on the one hand, we are called to carry out Jesus’ mission everywhere, and on the other hand, we need to believe in the Word of God and be baptized.

May this Mass enable us to be Jesus’ missionaries wherever we live. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD



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