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Seventh Sunday – Ascension B – Easter
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Mk 16:15-20.
1/ First Reading: NAB Acts 1:1 In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught 2 until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4 While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; 5 for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. 8 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.” 9 When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10 While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
2/ Second Reading: NAB Ephesians 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. 18 May the eyes of (your) hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, 20 which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, 21 far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.
3/ Gospel: NAB Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. 18 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.” 19 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. 20 But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh Minh Tien, O.P.
I. THEME: Jesus ascends to heaven.
There are two things we need to study on the Ascension. First, what is the true meaning of Ascension? Is it meant that when Jesus ascended to heaven, he shall be spiritually separated from us? Did he bring his human body to heaven? Where is the heaven? What shall we enjoy there? Secondly, why does Jesus give the apostles and through them, the Church the mission of bringing the salvation to all people through the preaching of the Good News?
Today readings center on the event of Ascension and the mission which Jesus gives to his disciples. In the first reading, St. Luke reported these two events, Jesus ascended to heaven and he charged his disciples to preach the gospel to all people. In the second reading, St. Paul prayed for his faithful to have the spirit of wisdom to understand God’s mystery of salvation, achieved by Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Good News and gave them necessary powers so that people shall believe in their preaching.
1/ Reading I: “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”
1.1/ Jesus confirmed his disciples’ faith during forty days after his resurrection.
Based on Luke 1:1-4 and today passage: “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taughtuntil the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen,” we have a proof to conclude that St. Luke is the author of both the Third Gospel and the Acts. The “first book” he mentioned in this passage is his Gospel.
Before Jesus ascends to heaven, he spent forty days after his resurrection to confirm the disciples’ faith by many appearances and teaching. He wanted to show them that he is still living and talking with them about God’s kingdom. This period is very important for Jesus’ disciples and the Church because if they don’t have strong faith in Jesus, they shall not witness for him and the Church shall never be expanded throughout the world.
1.2/ Jesus reminded them his promise of giving them the Holy Spirit: In Jesus’ farewell to his apostles before his Passion, he promised to ask his Father to send the Holy Spirit to live in and to act with them (cf. Jn 15 and 16). Today passage reminded them of that promise and told them to stay in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit: “The promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak;for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
John’s baptism is the baptism in water to express one’s repentance of sins and to return to God. All of Jesus’ apostles were the Jews and they might receive this baptism as John did (Jn 1:26); but there is a baptism in Holy Spirit to sanctify people which John mentioned and Jesus himself received (Jn 1:32-33). The apostles received this baptism at the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).
The disciples misunderstood Jesus’ saying when they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still thinking a powerful Messiah according to their tradition, even though they witnessed Jesus went through his Passion, Death and Resurrection. They might think that it is the time that Jesus shall recover the kingdom of Israel by sending the Holy Spirit to make them the rulers with Christ! But Jesus corrected their misunderstanding and explained for them that the purpose of receiving the Holy Spirit is for them to preach the Good News and to witness for him through the region od Judah, Samaria and to the end of the earth. When he shall recover God’s kingdom belongs to the Father’s power and time which the Father has predestined. This also depends on human co-operation in making God’s kingdom to come by helping all people to know God.
1.3/ Jesus ascended to heaven: “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” In Luke’s gospel, he also mentioned Jesus’ ascension in the last verses (Lk 24:50-51) and the disciples’ joyful reaction (Lk 24:52-53). How do we understand Jesus’ ascension event?
(1) Jesus went to heaven with his resurrected body, a body which from now on shall not be affected by sufferings, sickness or death. St. Thomas Aquinas explained: It is with this resurrected body that Jesus is necessary to ascend to heaven, because the world we are living is changing and shall be destroyed (ST III, Q.57).
(2) When Jesus ascended to heaven, it isn’t meant that from now on, he shall separately live from his disciples; but it means that he is no longer dependent on the limit of the body in time and space. He is always present everywhere and at all time with human beings: in the United States and Vietnam, in the sacrament of the Eucharist and in prayer. Moreover, the persons of the Holy Trinity never separate from each other. Eventhough, the present time belongs the Holy Spirit; but whoever has the Holy Spirit, he also has the Trinity.
(3) According to Pope John Paul II, the heaven isn’t a place hidden behind the sky; but a glorious and everlasting state resulting from a complete union between God and a human being. If we understand so, the heaven already began in this world but not yet reaching the complete level as the next life, when we enjoy the “beatific vision,” as God is.
(4) Jesus shall come back the second time from heaven to judge both the living and the dead, as the Acts reported: “While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.””
2/ Reading II: St. Paul asked the Holy Spirit to grant the faithful to understand God’s mysteries.
2.1/ The most important of God’s mysteries is His plan of salvation achieved by Christ: People committed sins, and as a result, they must die. To save them from death and to recover their life, God gave them Jesus Christ. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, people have a hope to live for ever with God. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians described these as followed: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know:”
(1) “What is the hope that belongs to his call:” Our main hope is the hope of everlasting life which was achieved by Christ. If we believe in Christ, we hope that we shall live for ever with God who unceasingly calls and provides opportunities for people to know Christ.
(2) “What are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones:” The glorious inheritance of God is the salvation which Christ has achieved for human beings. The saints are those who inherited the salvation; they are witnesses for our hope.
(3) “And what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might which he worked in Christ.” By Christ, God is victorious over the devil’s power, he destroyed death and brings the eternal life for human beings.
2.2/ God’s power is expressed in Christ.
(1) Christ is God’s power and wisdom: He raises “him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The Letter to the Philippians similarly expressed this idea about Jesus’ power and holy name (cf. Phi 2:10-11).
(2) Christ established the Church to perpetuate his mission in the world: The author continued, “He put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”
Christ needs the Church to expand his salvation to all people. There is a legend between Christ and the archangel Gabriel about Jesus’ hope in the Church. Gabriel asked Jesus on the day of his ascension, “Do people know that how much you love them and what you has done for them?” Jesus answered, “They don’t know yet but I hope they will know through my disciples.” Gabriel continued, “What will happen if your disciples forget to preach, or the next generation forgets, or no more preachers?” Jesus confidently answered, “I believe that they shall not do that.”
3/ Gospel: Jesus gives his disciples the mission of preaching the Good News.
3.1/ The mission of preaching the Good News: He said to them, “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.” When Jesus resurrected and ascended, he finished his mission of acquiring salvation for humankind. He now gives the mission of preaching the Good News for his disciples so that they can bring salvation to all people. In order to attain salvation, people need to believe in Christ and to be baptized.
3.2/ Jesus gave powers to the disciples so that people shall believe in their teaching: He promises them: “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will:”
(1) Drive out demons: St. Paul expelled demon from a maidservant at Philippi (Acts 16:18)
(2) Speak new languages: The apostles spoke the native languages at the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11)
(3) Avoid dangers: “They will pick up serpents (with their hands), and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.”
(4) Healing: “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” This power was done by Peter, Paul and many disciples.
“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.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– Jesus ascended to heaven as the head, we are members of his body, the Church, shall also be ascended. This is our sure hope.
– Jesus believes that we shall never forget our mission of preaching the Good News. We must do all we can for people to believe in him; at the same time, we must also continue to train eager workers so that they will preach the gospel for future generation.
– Jesus’ ascension doesn’t mean he will be absent in our life; but it means once he is no longer dependent on the limit of human body, he shall be present with everyone in everywhere and at all time.