Sunday, June 1, 2014

“Why do you stand there looking to the sky?” (Reflections on the Ascension of the Lord, Matthew 28:16-20)

There’s a story that when Jesus returned to heaven after his resurrection, the angel Gabriel was surprised to see him back so soon. After all, he had only been on earth 33 years and that was too short a time to accomplish such a big job like saving the world. 

“Back so soon?” Gabriel asked Jesus.
“Well, I would’ve stayed longer, but they crucified me”, Jesus answered.
“Oh they crucified you?” said Gabriel. “Does that mean the mission failed”?
“No”, said Jesus. “You see I gathered a small group of disciples. And I’m sending them the Holy Spirit. They’ll continue my work”.
“But what if they fail?” asked Gabriel.
“Hmm”, Jesus replied, “then I guess that’s the end of it. I don’t have other plans”.

Today's Feast commemorates Jesus' ascent into heaven, leaving his disciples behind to continue his work here on earth.

He preached for only three years and to a tiny nation called Israel. Today we remember and celebrate the expansion of the work he had begun, as he commissioned the twelve to "go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature", promising the Holy Spirit to continue guiding them.

The most interesting words in today’s biblical texts, however, do not come from the gospel, but from the first reading. As the disciples look to Jesus who ascends to heaven, two angels speak to them and say: “Why do you stand there looking to the sky?”

As Christians, the Feast of the Ascension is a reminder to us that while our home, our final destiny is not this world, but heaven, Jesus nevertheless wants us to always bear in mind that our eyes must first fix themselves intently here on earth. While our hearts should never be overwhelmed by the concerns of this world, we must nonetheless care for this world, be concerned for others and be his faithful witnesses to our faith here and now.

The words of the angels to the disciples are therefore words addressed to each one of us: “Why do you stand there looking to the sky?” We cannot stand here on earth with our eyes gazing elsewhere. Today’s Feast is an invitation to us to give ourselves completely to making this world just a little better for ourselves and for others. It is the only way to fulfill Christ’s command to be witnesses to him.

As Jesus depended on the twelve disciples after the Ascension, so he now depends on a very real way, on each one of us—to witness to him through our commitment to our faith and the goodness of the lives we live.

Being a witness to Jesus is perhaps as daunting and challenging in our day and age as it was for his first disciples two thousand years ago. But it is an equally consoling as well as humbling thought that like them, we do our work with the knowledge that Jesus continues to lead and guide us.

Jesus may have ascended to heaven, but our task, as his followers, is right here. We must continue his work, preach the Good News through our lives, fulfill his command to make disciples of all nations and trust that he will be with us “until the end of the world”.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)