12 May 2018 Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. (Acts 1, 1-11; Psalm 46; Ephesians 1, 17-23; Luke 24, 46-53)
We celebrate in the Solemnity of the Ascension the end of the mission of Jesus on earth. Before He goes up to heaven, Jesus gathers all of His disciples who will continue His mission with the help of the Holy Spirit whom He promises to send. To these disciples whom He knows are not perfect, He entrusts the mission of the Kingdom. As He is taken up to heaven, He raises His hands and blesses them.
The picture of the Ascension is very much relevant to our lives today. As the barangay elections draws nearer on Monday, 14 May 2018 (and those who have just been unjustly ousted without due constitutional process), we now know to whose hands we are newly entrusted. And at the same time, we know who has to let go and relinquish their office.
Life is full of comings and goings. There are times when we have to give up our positions to give way to another. We are promoted to a higher office that we have to leave the position we once occupied for someone else. Or, we have resigned from our work because we want another that would pay us well.
For many religious, assignments to another mission comes frequently. For Jesuits in the Philippines, we know our new assignment on Easter Sunday, and it is explicit that we have to be there on the 15th of May. It is often the case that we are left with a few weeks to be able to endorse the work to another Jesuit or lay person who will take the work we’ve previously started or continued by our predecessor. In all these, the issue is proper continuity.
How do we exit properly and gracefully? We take the cue from Jesus.
First, Jesus knows when it is time to go. Though He remained a few weeks after the Resurrection and appeared to His disciples several times, the Acts of the Apostles tell us that He knows that it is time for them to take on the job. He is aware of their weaknesses. He knows that Peter is impulsive while James and John are ambitious. He deliberately choose those who are not scholars; but the sinners and lowly in society. His followers are all simple folks and therefore He is very much aware that they will fail in one way or the other. But they will never learn unless He says goodbye.
Second, Jesus puts all His trust on His disciples. He hinges on the fact that they are His witnesses. He believes that His disciples will remember what He said, did and taught. When He appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, He always reminded them of their friendship and their mission.
In the Lake of Tiberias, He brought to memory the event of their specific call by appearing on the shore, instructing the disciples on the boat to cast their nets into the sea, preparing a fish-and-bread breakfast, breaking the bread and sharing their meals together. On the way to Emmaus, Jesus tells the two disciples about what was said of Him in the Scripture. When Jesus blessed and broke the bread, the two disciples recognized Jesus because blessing and breaking the bread was Jesus’ habit.
Jesus trusts that the disciples will not forget.
In the Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples:
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Third, Jesus blesses them. To give our blessing is to do these things: We ask God to look favorably on those we bless. We endow someone with what we cherish. And we express our gratitude for them. Jesus raised His hands to God and prays for them. He promised to send the Holy Spirit who will wrap them with power to preach. And then, He expresses His gratitude.
What a way to go.
So too with us.
When we are to leave, we think of those who will take our place. Some of us would hold on to our past glories. Some would even keep to themselves the secret of their success, so that their successor will not achieve as much.
But if we are Christians, we have to be like Jesus.
We have to see our work in the perspective of the vineyard of Christ; every laborer in the vineyard works for one sole purpose, one enterprise. No one is indispensable. If the owner of the vineyard tells us to work in another part of the field, we are to go where there is greater need. And that means, to leave gracefully as Jesus in His ascension.
So that those who will take our place will be like the disciples rejoicing on their way back to their “office” in Jerusalem. They are happy because they know that the Lord who promised to love them forever, also trusted them. That is the reason why Jesus is endearing to those who follow Him.