Live as the Lord's disciples

  • April 24, 2008

Ascension of the Lord (Year A) May 4 (Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20)

When is God going to topple the totalitarian regimes of the Earth and banish dictators? When is God going to restore democratic governments and put an end to human rights abuses? These are some of the questions in our own minds today, similar to the ones the followers of Jesus were asking: When are you going to eject the hated Romans from our land and restore the Kingdom of Israel? But God is not in the business of king making.

By His answers, Jesus lets it be known that they are still thinking in human, earth-bound concepts of power and justice. These are characterized by force, domination and hierarchy. But He is offering them another vision and experience of power — spiritual power from above. A regime change is not in the wind, but a radical change in how human beings think and act. He orders them to stay put in Jerusalem and wait patiently for the gift of God’s Spirit. This Spirit will give them the power to transform hearts and minds and with this gift they will transform the Earth.

Just to drive the point home, the two mysterious figures in white chide the Galileans for craning their necks to follow the ascending Jesus. The Lord is not “up there” but “down here” in our midst — and within each one of us. We have been given a difficult but rewarding assignment: we should roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Probably our greatest difficulty in accomplishing this mission is that we are clueless when it comes to appreciating the nature and importance of what God is offering us. The author of Ephesians prays that we be granted wisdom, revelation and an enlightened heart so that we can comprehend the beauty, power and majesty of God’s gift to us: His own Spirit. It is not primarily about “being saved” but being empowered as God-filled people. God’s power was at work in Jesus, and He was exalted above all creation and powers. And that same divine power is at work in us. As such, we continue the mission of Jesus: redeeming the Earth and its people for God.

Jesus has to spend a fair amount of time convincing His followers that He is alive and in their midst — even then, not everyone is on board. Being there doesn’t necessarily eliminate doubts. As in the second reading, Matthew’s Jesus insists that He has been vested with supreme authority over creation. We might ask why the world seems to be so chaotic and negative if that is truly the case. But the great commission that follows gives us a clue. His command to His followers is to go forth and make disciples of all nations and to impart His teachings concerning authentic human living that is in harmony with God. These teachings are expressed in their ideal state both in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and in the life of Jesus.

But making disciples of all nations is not about numbers or filling churches — it is about making a difference in the world and giving humanity valuable assistance on its journey to God. The Trinitarian baptismal formula in this commission is probably not original — it likely reflects a much later understanding of discipleship. The Lord is asking us to share joyfully with others what has been given to us and to open new possibilities for them. Different people will receive it in different ways, and all must be free to accept it according to their individual capacity and their own lights.

And as always, we must insure that we are truly the Lord’s disciples before presuming to tell others how to live their lives — something we should keep in mind during the heated debates of our own times. That means healing our own divisions, cleaning up our own scandals and purifying ourselves of the thirst for power, privilege and domination.

Jesus asks us to enkindle the flame of hope and faith in human hearts. But even more than that, He gives us words of hope to share that must always be far more than mere words when we share them: “I will be with you always until the end of the age.” 

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