Pastoral Reflections

Ascension Thursday – 2017

After Jesus’ ascension what are we to do? Do we sit around and wait for something to happen, or do we go forward and do something? Sitting around and waiting for something to happen is the mistaken view of some of the disciples in Luke’s account of the ascension, which we heard in the first lesson. These disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) They clearly continue to have a mistaken view of Jesus and his mission.

The Roman Empire spread east and conquered Palestine in 63 BC. These disciples mistakenly thought Jesus would do something to drive out the Romans and restore self-rule to Israel. But that was not Jesus’ mission. In the Old Covenant the Chosen People were called by God from their slavery in Egypt, led through the sea during the exodus, and into the Promised Land of Canaan. However, everything changes in the New Testament. The inheritance now is not the physical land of Israel. Now the inheritance is heaven; the journey from slavery in Egypt is now a journey from sin crossing the sea of baptism. Now in the New Covenant the journey is from sin to heaven. Land is not part of the New Covenant.

The inheritance in the New Covenant is heaven, but these disciples mentioned by Luke in our first reading, did not yet understand the huge change from the Old to the New Covenant. There are some who today also misunderstand the New Covenant. I think of those who believe that morality and the situation of Christians in the world will get progressively worse before the onset of a seven-year period of tribulation, which will be followed by the rapture during which they believe all Christians will be raptured up to heaven. The rapture refers to the moment of Christ’s coming when he will call unto himself all his loyal followers, who will then rise up meet him in the heavens. Following the rapture, they believe only Jews and Gentiles will remain on earth and Palestine will become the land of Israel as in the Old Covenant, under the leadership of the 144,000 Jews. (Rev 7:4) These Jews will govern the earth for 1000 years, converting the Gentiles (Rev 20:3,5,7), before the end comes.

If one believed that the world is going to become progressively worse until a seven-year tribulation, what incentive is there to do anything to improve the world or change the culture of the world? Why would one bother? You would be only slowing down what is inevitable and forestalling the Second Coming of Jesus.

However, there is another view, the one we see in Scripture today. How did Jesus respond to the question of the disciples in the first reading about restoring the kingdom to Israel? He said, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8) We are not to sit around and wait, we are to do something, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Clearly we are not to sit back and just let society and the culture around us continue to fall apart. We are called to make society and the culture holy, and we can do so by witnessing that we follow Christ. Clearly Catholic politicians are called not to make the views of secular society law but to make laws that reflect who we really are namely, the children of God. If someone believes he/she is a Catholic outside the voting chamber but it changes inside the voting chamber, to me that is suggestive of living a life of dissociation.

After Jesus’ ascension what are we to do? Do we sit around and wait for something to happen or do we go forward and do something? Jesus said we are not to sit around and wait, we are to do something, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In the Gospel Jesus was even more specific when talking to the Apostles. Before Jesus ascended, he entrusted his mission to the Apostles saying, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” (Matt 28:19)

While that mission was entrusted to the Apostles, and to the bishops who are the successors of the Apostles, and their assistants, the priests, everyone is called to assist in the mission of evangelization.

How can we do this? By praying for the leadership of the Church and by giving witness that you follow Christ, especially in those situations where perhaps you are the only one who can or has the courage to witness to Christ. Is Christ relying on you to witness to him when no one else will or when all others are afraid? As a personal example, in the year 2003, I and a retired Baptist minister, stepped forward in our local community to publically witness for life. We had a ministerial association membership of about 60 pastors in our community. The remainder of the membership was uncomfortable taking a public position on this issue as these pastors were ‘afraid to offend’ members in our community who were pro-choice. It is always safe to witness to Jesus in the comfort of our church walls. It takes a level of conviction and courage to witness to Jesus in the public arena.

I conclude with part of the prayer in the second reading today. ‘May God our Father...enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

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