Rabula Gospels, a 6th c. Syrian illuminated Gospel book, folio 13v, Christ's Ascension. Wikimedia Commons

God's Word on Sunday: Spiritual insight exposes a deeper reality

  • May 24, 2019

Ascension of the Lord, June 2 (Year C) Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:44-53

Human expectations and God’s plans are seldom identical. The followers of Jesus had an agenda — Jesus was to expel the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of Israel. After the Resurrection, they were constantly tugging at His sleeve and asking if this was the moment. 

They had plenty of time to badger Him with the question. In the second volume of his work, Luke reopened the narrative after his Gospel closing and described a 40-day period of teaching before the Ascension. We can only imagine the things that Jesus told them during that period — if only we had a record! But we can be assured that we have what is necessary. 

Jesus gave a rather brusque answer — almost a dismissal — to their question. He told them that they were out of line. It was not for them to be poking into God’s plans and demanding a schedule or timetable. That was for God alone. Their job was to wait patiently — something most of us do poorly — for the gift of the Spirit from on high. 

Much damage is done by people presuming to do God favours or anticipate the divine will. Waiting is an art and a spiritual discipline that we need to practise. Part of the discipline of waiting is to remain spiritually focused on the challenges of everyday life. 

The disciples were reminded of that by the two mysterious figures who stood by as they watched Jesus ascend and vanish from sight. The two figures asked why they were so taken up with the manner of His ascension rather than what it meant. 

After ascending to the Father, Jesus sent the Spirit upon His followers so that they could continue His mission. That mission was to be His witnesses to the ends of the Earth. 

Their lives would never be their own or the same again, for the Spirit would soon be their teacher and guide. As for when and how Jesus returned, they were not to worry (and neither are we) — it would be apparent to all when He did.

The prayer of Ephesians was that God would grant believers a spirit of wisdom and revelation as their knowledge of Jesus deepened. Not a bad spiritual gift and one in keeping with the request of King Solomon when God asked him to make a request. 

The purpose of the gift was to enlighten the “eyes of the heart” — a rather strange image. In the ancient Jewish understanding of the human person, the heart was the centre of wisdom, understanding and discernment. People thought with their hearts, not their heads! 

After receiving this enlightenment, they would begin to understand the depth and glory of what God had in store for them. All of this was possible because Jesus had ascended and reigns with God the Father.

In the upper room, Jesus anticipated this enlightenment by opening the minds of the disciples so they could penetrate the inner spiritual message of the Scriptures. There is always more than meets the eye in a superficial or literal reading of a text. Opening the mind always involves thinking outside the box and laying aside preconceptions and opinions. 

The disciples began to understand that the Scriptures had witnessed to God’s Messiah from the beginning, and that suffering and dying were part of the divine plan rather than a fluke or accident. This was a huge stumbling block for the early followers of Jesus. How could the Messiah suffer and die? 

This gives us an insight into how the early Christians read the Scriptures — through the lenses of the experience of the risen Christ. Spiritual insight enabled them to see a deeper reality in the biblical stories and it will do the same for us. 

The long-awaited mission of Jesus was repentance and forgiveness of sins for all humanity. His followers would be the instruments of that proclamation, just as we are today. But in order to witness to something, we must have experienced it ourselves — we cannot give what we do not have. 

This would have been difficult if not impossible but for the gift of the Spirit, which He promised would come upon them soon. The Gospel of Luke ends where it began, in the temple, but this time there was great rejoicing.

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