Sunday, May 13, 2018
Ascension of The Lord
"Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News!"
He lives in our midst!
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to Your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The liturgy of the feast of the Ascension presents us with a scene where Jesus appears to the disciples and confers on them the mission of going to the whole world to proclaim the Good News. The text of Mark's Gospel (Mk 16:9-20) is the final section of the appendix of that Gospel (Mk 16:15-20). We expand the brief commentary to include the whole of the appendix. During the reading we need to pay attention to the following point: "To whom does Jesus appear, what are the various aspects of the mission and what are the signs of His presence in the community?"
b) A division of the text as an aid to the reading:
Mark 16:9-11: Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene.
Mark 16:12-13: Jesus appears to two disciples.
Mark 16:14-18: Jesus appears to the eleven and gives them a mission.
Mark 16:19-20: Jesus ascends into heaven in the presence of the disciples.
c) The text:
Jesus said to 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. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) How do we handle discerning and verifying the news we hear today? What news today would be able to make us change our lives completely as news of the Resurrection did back then?
b) To whom does Jesus manifest Himself alive and how do they react (Mk 16:9-20)?
c) In this text, who has the greatest difficulty in believing in the resurrection?
d) As Paul says, "God brought us to life with Christ…and gave us a place with Him in heaven" (Eph 2:6). How does this affirmation help us to understand the meaning of the Ascension?
e) What are the signs of Jesus' presence within the community? What is the meaning of each sign? What is our personal involvement, reaction and response to each?
f) What signs best convince people today of the presence of Jesus in our midst?
5. A key to the reading
to enter deeper into the theme.
i) The context:
The appendix of Mark's Gospel offers a list of Jesus' appearances (Mk 16:9-20). There are other lists but they do not always coincide. The list given by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is quite different (1Cor 15:3-8). These differences show that, in the beginning, Christians were not concerned about describing or proving the resurrection. For them, faith in the resurrection was so vivid and evident that there was no need to prove it. The communities themselves, living and persevering among so many challenges and persecutions from the Roman Empire, were living proof of the truth of the resurrection.
The people of that time were not easily convinced of things. They demanded proof all along the way, from the Pharisees to Thomas. Considerable weight must be given to the way the first communities lived out their witness. The Gospels are not a general history book. Much is also handed down through tradition (Jn 21:25). Consider, even in that time, the Jews paid to create false news stories of the Resurrection. Belief within the first communities, despite death and persecution, is more convincing than logical arguments for us today. Their radical change of life proves they experienced Jesus and the Gospel in reality.
ii) Commentary on the text:
a) Mark 16:9-11: Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, but the other disciples do not believe her.
Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene and she announces this to the others. To come into the world, God chose to depend on the yes of Mary of Nazareth (Lk 1:38). To be recognized as living in our midst, He chose to depend on the word of Mary Magdalene who had been freed from seven devils.
Mark says that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. In this he agrees with the other three Evangelists (cf. Mt 28:9-10; Jn 20:16; Lk 24:9-11). But on the list of appearances given in the Letter to the Corinthians (1Cor 15:3-8), there is no mention of any appearances to the women. The first Christians found it difficult to believe the witness of women. This was a condition of the society at the time.
b) Mark 16:12-13: Jesus appears to two disciples
The story of Jesus' appearance to the two disciples who were walking in the fields is probably a reference to Jesus' appearance to the disciples from Emmaus who, on returning, shared their experience of the resurrection with "the eleven” and their companions (Lk 24:33-34). Only here, Mark differs from Luke because the others did not believe in the witness of the two disciples.
c) Mark 16:14: Jesus scolds the eleven for their incredulity
Finally, Jesus appears to the eleven disciples gathered at table and scolds then because they have not believed those who had seen Him risen. For the third time, Mark makes reference to the resistance of the disciples to believe the witness of those who had experienced the resurrection of Jesus. Why does Mark insist so much on the incredulity of the disciples? Probably to teach two things: first, that faith in the risen Jesus is transmitted through the faith of those who give witness to it; second, that no one must give up hope when doubt or confusion arises in one's heart. Even the eleven had doubts!
d) Mark 16:15-18: The signs that go with the proclamation of the Good News
Jesus immediately confers the mission of announcing the Good News to all creation. The requirement for anyone who wishes to be saved is this: to believe and be baptized. To those who have the courage to believe in the Good News and are baptized, He promises the following signs: (1) they will drive out devils; (2) they will speak in new tongues; (3) they will hold snakes in their hands; (4) if they drink poison it will not harm them; (5) they will lay hands on the sick and these will be healed. These signs take place even now:
* to drive out devils is to fight the power of evil that chokes life. The life of many people has improved since they entered in community and have started to live the good news of the presence of God. By participating in the life of the community, they drive out evil from their lives.
* to speak in new tongues: is to begin to communicate with others in a new way. Sometimes we meet someone whom we have never met before, but it is as if we have known each other for a long time. This is because we speak the same language of love. The way of thinking about others and speaking to them is different than what our original inclination was.
* to hold snakes in one's hand and to overcome poison: there are so many things that poison our life and living together. Gossip breaks down relationships for instance, as does envy, hate, pride, and many others. Those who live in the presence of God can overcome these deadly poisons. “Snakes”, as in serpents, can refer back to the devil’s interaction in the Garden. We are able to restrain these demons who attack us.
* to heal the sick: wherever we have a clearer awareness of the presence of God, we find also special care for those excluded and marginalized, especially the sick. What best restores health is welcoming and loving care. To “lay hands on” means to touch. It demands more than tossing a donation in a cup. Touching creates a bond of friendship, whereas a donation is more like a transaction.
e) Mark 16:19-20: Through the community, Jesus continues His mission
The Jesus who, in Palestine, welcomed the poor and revealed to them the love of the Father, is the same Jesus who now continues to be present in our midst in our communities, from couples to families to parishes and religious orders. Through us, He continues His mission of revealing the Good News of the love of God for the poor. To this day, the resurrection still takes place. No earthly power can neutralize the force that comes from faith in the resurrection (Rom 8:35-39). A community that wants to witness to the resurrection must be a sign of life, must fight against the power of death. So that the world may become a place of life, that community must believe that another world is possible. Above all, where the life of the people is in danger because of a system of death that is imposed, the community must be a living proof of the hope that conquers the world, without fear of unhappiness!
iii) Further information on the Gospel of Mark - God's surprises:
From the start, Mark's Gospel insists that "The time has come…and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News" (Mk 1:15). This initial request for conversion and faith shows us the door through which we have access to Jesus and the Good News of God that He brings. There is no other access. Faith demands belief in Jesus, in His Word, accepting Him unconditionally. We are invited to not shield ourselves with any name or title, doctrine or custom, and to keep ourselves always open to the surprises of God which demand a constant conversion. Names and titles, doctrines and customs, devotions and pleadings are like a tag that we wear on our chest for identification. The tag is important because it helps us and directs us when necessary to meet a person we are looking for. But when we meet, we do not look at the tag any more, but at the face! Very often, when we meet the person we are looking for he or she is quite different from what we imagined before. The meeting always carries some surprises! More so our meeting with God in Jesus. Throughout Mark's Gospel there are many surprises for the disciples, and these come from where they least expect them:
* from a pagan who gives Peter a lesson because he recognizes the presence of God in the crucified one (Mk 15:39);
* from a poor widow who gives her all to share with others (Mk 12:43-44);
* from a blind man who annoys the disciples by calling out and who does not even have a definite belief (Mk 10:46-52);
* from marginalized little ones who believe in Jesus (Mk 9:42);
* from those who use the name of Jesus to fight evil but who do not belong to the "Church" (Mk 9:38-40);
* from an anonymous woman who scandalizes the disciples by her manner of acting (Mk 14:3-9);
* from a father of a family who is obliged to carry the cross and becomes a model disciple (Mk 15:21)
* from Joseph of Arimathea who risks everything by asking for the body of Jesus to give it burial (Mk 15:43).
* from women who, then, could not be official witnesses but were chosen by Jesus as expert witnesses of His resurrection (Mk 15:40.47; 16:6.9-10).
In a word: The twelve disciples who were specially called by Jesus (Mk 3:13-19) and who were sent by Him on a mission (Mk 6:7-13), failed. Peter denied Him (Mk 14:66-72), Judas betrayed Him (Mk 14:44-45) and all fled (Mk 14:50). But it is precisely through their failure that is shown the strength of faith of the others who were not part of the group of the chosen twelve. The community must clearly be aware that it does not own Jesus nor does it own all the criteria of the action of God in our midst. Jesus does not belong to us, but we, the community, the Church, belong to Jesus, and Jesus is of God (1Cor 3:23). The greatest surprise of all is the resurrection!
6. Psalm 27 (26)
Courage born of faith
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me,
uttering slanders against me,
my adversaries and foes,
they shall stumble and fall.
Though a host encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in His temple.
For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble;
He will conceal me under the cover of His tent,
He will set me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies round about me;
and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
Thou hast said, "Seek ye My face."
My heart says to Thee,
"Thy face, Lord, do I seek."
Hide not Thy face from me.
Turn not Thy servant away in anger,
Thou who hast been my help.
Cast me not off, forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me up.
Teach me Thy way, O Lord;
and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord; be strong,
and let your heart take courage;
yea, wait for the Lord!
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.