B Cycle – Feast of the Ascension 21
Today we celebrate another significant event in salvation history, the ascension of Jesus to heaven and the end of his earthly ministry. But we know Jesus did not leave us “orphaned”, for he promised to be with us for all time. We also know from his words in the upper room the Spirit would send us the Holy Spirit. That my brothers and sisters is even more significant for us to embrace and desire in our lives. Jesus over these 40 days since his resurrection has been appearing to the disciples and those appearances confused them even more than the things Jesus revealed during his three years with them.
Forty days are significant in the history of God and us his creation. Rain fell for forty days and nights because of the sins of man. What we need to reflect on is the promise of God made to Noah when he came out of the ark. God said, “I will never curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth and I will never again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Gn.8:21). Do you understand the significance of that promise! It is a message which lies at the heart of God’s plan to restore the intimacy we lost with the sin of Adam. God’s desire that “none should perish” (Mt.18:14) but come to everlasting life.
Moses spent forty days on Mt. Sinai where God appears and reveals himself as a God of “mercy, love, faithfulness, slow to anger and who would forgive and forget our sins” (Ex.34:6). Again, we see God’s desire for us is not to punish us or leave us to wallow in our sins. God desires to embrace us and offers us what we do not deserve. There was the event when the Israelites reached the promised land and Moses sent in 12 men to scout the land to determine is it was all God promised. Again, man failed to trust God and believed the inhabitants of Canaan were too strong for them to overcome and because they opted not to enter the land, they are wandering in the desert for forty years – one year for every day spent spying on the land (Numbers 13 and 14).
The significance of each forty day event is God’s desire to give us a life of abundance was walked away from because we failed to trust God.
Are we in the same confused state as the disciples about the resurrection? We believe his death and resurrection was for the salvation of the world. But does that belief translate into living our life knowing we are forgiven? I think we do believe, at least intellectually believe the crucifixion was for our sins. Yet, we do not seem to act on that belief for we are continually trying to please God. This is our human nature at work in us and that nature seeks approval from our earthly fathers as well as our heavenly father.
Just before the ascension of Jesus, there is an interesting response of Peter to the appearances of Jesus. This is recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 21. After Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples on the night of the resurrection, the Spirit begins the internal transformation of the disciple’s hearts for this is the first action of the Spirits within each of us. But this is just the first steps of discipleship for them and for us. We like them simply do not know how to respond to the resurrected Jesus until the Spirit completes its work of transformation at Pentecost.
Peter after seeing the resurrected Jesus says to the disciples, “I am going fishing” (Jn.21:3). It seems the risen Christ is too much for Peter to process and he is going back to his old life and occupation. I do not believe he intended to go on a retreat to meditate on the events following the resurrection. No, I believe he was going back where he was comfortable and without the challenges of belief in Jesus. Six other disciples go with him, James and John, Thomas, Nathaniel and two unnamed disciples go to the Sea of Tiberias. They fish all night and catch nothing suddenly Jesus appears on the shore and calls out to them. He instructs them to cast the net on the other side. Talk about DeJa’Vu we are back to that first day they encountered Jesus three years before.
This story is full of lessons for us about faith, belief, and Jesus. Each of us is called to follow hm and that call is a response to his death, resurrection, and ascension. God desires an encounter with each of us in that same way as Noah, Moses, and the disciples. That encounter is a transformative event which should result in a stronger faith and belief in God’s promises. In this final encounter before the ascension, Peter is asked by Jesus if he loves him, and Peter responds yes. That same question needs to be answered by all of us, do we love him enough to follow him. But the real lesson comes when Jesus invites Peter to follow him after telling him the cost of discipleship is dying to self.
Peter of course is willing to follow Jesus. He has had his prodigal son moment and he felt the embrace of forgiveness as we must feel that embrace. Then as Peter is responding to the invitation to follow Jesus, Peter looks back “at the one Jesus loves” and asks, “what about him.” Jesus responds, “what concern of that is yours, follow me.”
The ascension should make us look inward and realize we are being called to go and make disciples of those we contact. This day was not meant for those disciples only, but for all who say they believe. The task of following Jesus will be challenging, and we cannot look back at those whom we believe should also be invited to follow. The task is ours and we like the disciples need to be clothed with power from on high. We will have ten days to pray for the Spirit to come and fill our hearts That is what the disciples did, and it is now our turn to pray with expectant faith that we like them will be totally changed and know we can tap into the power of God as they did.