May 25, 2006 - Year B - Ascension
• 44 Then Jesus said to them, “Remember the words I spoke to you when I was still with you: Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he went on, 46 “You see what was written: the Messiah had to suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. 47 Then repentance and forgiveness in his name would be proclaimed to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 Now you shall be witnesses to this. 49 And this is why I will send you what my Father promised. So remain in the city until you are invested with power from above.”
50 Jesus led them almost as far as Bethany; then he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 And as he blessed them, he withdrew (and was taken to heaven. They worshiped him). 52 They returned to Jerusalem full of joy and 53 were continually in the Temple praising God.
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• 44. Jesus uses these encounters to clarify the meaning of his brief and intense mission for his apostles. He saves us from sin, which means nothing less than reordering history to resurrect humankind.
Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled. What the prophets announced, about a savior who would be rejected by his people and take the sin of his people upon himself, had to be fulfilled. What sin? Everyone’s sins, of course, but also the violence of the whole Jewish society at the time of Jesus. This was the sin that brought him to the cross.
As a matter of fact, this way of death and resurrection was not reserved only for Jesus, but for his people also. In that precise period, Israel, subject to the Roman Empire, had to accept the death of its earthly ambitions: autonomy, national pride, the religious superiority of the Jews over other people… in order to rise as the people of God scattered among nations and to become the agent of salvation. A minority took the way Jesus pointed out and this was the beginning of the Church.
Repentance and forgiveness. Christian conversion is not passing from one party to another, from one religious group to another: it is a recasting of the person. Persons are part of a society, a world, a history. Therefore the preaching to the nations means also the education of the nations and even international society. This is something that takes longer than ten or a hundred years.
You shall be witnesses to this (v. 48). Jesus calls his apostles to be the official witnesses of his Gospel and those who judge authentic faith.
Remain in the city. The apostles are not able to begin immediately missionary work. They will first dedicate themselves to strengthening fellowship and the fervor of the community of the disciples, as they wait for the time chosen by the Father to give them the power coming from above.
I will send you what my Father promised. Jesus could not affirm his divine authority and the unity of the three divine persons more powerfully.
He withdrew: this was the last of Jesus’ appearances to the group of disciples.
And so concludes Luke’s first book. His second book, The Acts of the Apostles, follows the Gospels and it begins exactly where this Gospel ends.
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1. We have witnessed much in our lives. For one reason or another, some of what we witness we keep to ourselves. Other times we are all too quick to tell more than we have seen - we catch a glimpse and make up a backstory to have it make sense to us.
2. A significant question is whether the promise of G*D is what we can already see. Can we be witnesses of a promise? a future? an intention?
In what ways are we to witness to the possibility of rising above our current realities where suffering precedes joy and death is prerequisite for resurrection? In this rising above what will be the touchstone for such a new life?
3. Note that ascension takes place during a blessing. It is in offering a blessing that new possibilities arise.
A challenge to us is not to stop and carve one highlight into stone. It becomes all too easy to worship the externals of this event and forget the internal dynamic of blessing (both the giving and the receiving) and moving toward living (empowering) that on a consistent basis.
A second note, contrast their response to an ascension of staying continually in the temple with G*D and the promised outcome of an ascension blessing coming while they were gathered together outside a temple setting. Where are you spending your time? Enough in a temple to get perspective and enough in community to get experience? The two work well together.
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