Ascension homily 2020
The readings today present a problem for 21st century people: you know, the classy, informed, educated, questioning people like us. The problem is easy to state, but difficult to resolve. It is a problem of geography.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard, “While meeting with them, he (that is, Jesus) enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak;…” So Jesus tells the Apostles to stay in Jerusalem. Do not depart from Jerusalem. Fine.
But in our Gospel today we hear: “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.” Galilee? That’s a good ways distant from Jerusalem. And “the mountain”? Which mountain?
So did Jesus tell the disciples to stay in Jerusalem, a la Luke, or did Jesus order them to go to a mountain in Galilee, a la Matthew?
Clearly Jesus could not order them to be in two places at once. Either Luke is wrong, or Matthew is. Jerusalem or Galilee? Where did Jesus last appear to His Apostles after the Resurrection?
Well, and this is the difficult part for us, who think scientifically, who think that a thing is just that thing and nothing more, and a place is a geographical spot on the earth and that is it.
Because Luke and Matthew are NOT talking about specific, identifiable places. They are not talking geography. Rather, they are giving us spiritual paradigms, stories to make a point. They are not concerned about telling us accurate details, but telling us stories that are guides, or patterns for our life.
In that spiritual sense, this, right here, is Jerusalem. This, right here, is “the mountain” in Galilee.
These are not geographical places in the Gospel, but spiritual places, images that can be anywhere and everywhere, and at all times.
Luke, written after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, wants to show a continuity between his community of Christians and the founders of the Christian community. Matthew wants to show the missionary aspect of the new Way of Jesus: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,…”
When we read these Gospel passages, we need to understand that they are not about long ago and far away. They are about here and now. They are about US. This is our lived reality. This is Jerusalem. This is the mountain in Galilee. For Jesus blesses us just like He blessed His disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, and Jesus commissions us to go forth, to “make disciples of all nations” just as He did in the Gospel of Matthew.
These readings, and this Feast of the Ascension, are not about long ago and far away. They speak to us here, today, and call us to follow the Lord, and to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, right now, right where we are. God bless!