Mark 16: 15 – 20
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Reflection, by Fr Aldo, sx
The central point of today’s Gospel is the role of the disciples in the world after Jesus’ return to the Father. The text presents three scenes: The resurrected Jesus defines the mission of the disciples; Jesus departs to meet the Father; the disciples depart to meet the world and to concretize the mission entrusted to them.
In the first scene Jesus appears to the disciples and awakens them from the alienation which was already dominating them and defines the mission which they are called to carry on. The first aspect of Jesus’ mandate regards the universality of Mission, to be carried on in the whole world, being not hampered by any barriers, not even those related to race, geography or culture. In fact the Gospel is to be proclaimed in all the earth. The Gospel is the “good news” per excellence which changes the course of history and transforms the horizons of human existence. Upon receiving the Gospel the human person has to make a choice, either to adhere to the proposal of Jesus and to get life in its fullness or to reject his proposal and remain at the margins of salvation.
In fact, the proclamation of the Gospel which the disciples are called to do will affect not only the human race but all the creatures as well. By uprooting selfishness and greed from the human heart, the Gospel will pave the way to a new relationship between humanity and the whole of creation and the entire environment.
The signs of God’s salvation will be visible in the action of the disciples who will expel the devils (of injustice and oppression) in Jesus name, they will speak in new languages (of peace and reconciliation), they will lay hands on those who are suffering and they will have new hope and new life; Jesus himself will be with them making sure that no amount of opposition will ever stop them.
In the second scene Jesus ascends to the heavens. This suggests that after having faithfully concluded his mission, now he re-enters the full communion with the Father. Jesus’ enthronization at the right hand of the Father only shows the veracity of his proposal. In the understanding of ancient people the one who sits at the right of God is a really special character, someone a king would honor for the accomplishment of a duty with faithfulness and heroism. What the disciples are embracing now is not just a new adventure, but God’ own plan of salvation revealed to humankind.
In the third scene we are rapidly introduced to the missionary activity of the disciples. They left (left behind the affections and human securities) and preached (proclaimed not only with words, but with real deeds) everywhere (with no exception) the salvific way of God.
Therefore, to celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord means to be aware of the role that we have, as disciples of Christ, in this vast community that was born to be a missionary Church. For us, the meaning of going up or ascending is definitely not about detaching oneself from the world and imagine being above the clouds of the sky. But to go up means to move closer to someone who is suffering and bring relief and consolation; to move closer to someone who is broken and discourage and bring hope and motivation for a new beginning; to move closer to someone who suffers discrimination and facilitate inclusion and acceptance; to approach those who are at war with one another and become and instrument for peace; to move closer to someone who is oppressed and voiceless to be his or her voice… this is our ascension.
Even if we are stormed with voices which say that happiness is to be found in the shopping malls and showbiz, we continue affirming that it is to be found in the values of the Kingdom of God which are centered on love and the gift of life. Thus we are grateful for God’s Word today which enlightens us on our role in the world as disciples after the return of Jesus to the Father.