Today on the liturgical calendar was the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Because Christ has ascended, he is now “seated at the right of God” on his rightful throne of authority and dominion.
The first reading (Acts 1:1-11), and the Gospel reading (Mark 16:15-20) are very crucial pieces of testimony regarding this amazing moment in history. They both describe the Ascension of Jesus Christ, but the Inspired writers provide different perspectives. As I read them, two noticeable things stood out.
First, examine the apostle’s question they ask our Lord. They ask him “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus had been with them in his earthly ministry for about 3 years. He ate with his disciples, taught them many things, and performed great miracles, but as he conquered death and was going back to his glory, as he had taught his disciples he would, they asked him this seemingly weird question.
Because nearly every Jew expected the Messiah to be a political leader that would restore Israel and free the nation from oppressive Roman authority. Literally, every Jew was expectant of this revolutionary messiah figure that would give hope to a downcast nation. Hence, when Jesus mentioned the Son of Man would suffer and be handed over, Peter immediately interjected (Mat. 16:22-23) because what good would a dead messiah be to a hopeful nation. Moreover, after his crucifixion, the two saddened followers on the road to Emmaus indicated that they hoped Jesus Christ would be the one who would redeem Israel.
The people during this time period had the wrong impression of who and what the Messiah would look like, but were too blind to see him in their face. The prophets hundreds of years prior to the Incarnation made bold declarations about Jesus’ messianic signs, birth, and ministry but those of Jesus’ own day were oblivious to the real messiah appearing. The disciples, who were intimately acquainted with all of his knowledge and abilities, still didn’t quite understand who Jesus was. Even after Peter confessed him as the Messiah (Mat. 16:15).
Throughout the scriptures, the disciples asked some questions that demonstrated they didn’t understand who Jesus was. So when disciples asked a question prior to Jesus’ ascension, this further demonstrates that they didn’t have the Holy Spirit yet to illuminate and guide them into all truth.
Jesus’ reply to their question is great. He tells them “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.”
Basically, Jesus tells his disciples don’t be fixated on the earthly kingdom of Israel, but instead when the Holy Spirit comes, you’ll be my witnesses across the entire world. Jesus didn’t downplay the significance of Israel, but instead, his kingdom would entail more than just a nation. The apostles would eventually fulfill this commission by first preaching to the Jews then going to the Gentiles to ultimately set the foundation for our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Another interesting point from today’s readings is the call to be witnesses. In Mark, Jesus tells his disciples “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
This commission that Christ gave the apostles is the same mission of the Church today. The Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity (CCC, 776). As a result, being founded on the apostles, the Church has existed throughout the whole world as the universal sacrament of salvation.
Think back to the commission from Jesus in the first reading and where Christianity is today. Christianity is on every continent and you can find at least a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church or Protestant community everywhere. It’s remarkable to see how Christianity has grown from a small band of faithful followers to a major universal religion.
However, in order for Christianity to remain in the forefront, it always requires believers to spread their faith. That’s why the Sacrament of Confirmation is so amazing! What Baptism begins, Confirmation perfects (CCC, 1316). Not only is it a means of initiation into the Church, and receiving sanctifying grace, but most importantly the sacrament is a means of receiving empowerment by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Christian faith. By Confirmation, we gain more aid to live out our faith boldly as witnesses of Jesus. The same power that aided the apostles and martyrs is made available to us. This is why the deacon or priest can conclude Mass by saying “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” The Holy Spirit helps us do that effectively.
Friends, at the heart of today’s solemnity, is evangelism. How can we all heed the call for spreading our beloved faith more? We all could be better witnesses daily, thankfully we have the Spirit to help us.