Blogging the Lectionary--Ascension Thursday Edition

Readings (Catholic)
Acts 1: 1-11
Psalm 47
Ephesians 1: 17-23
Matthew 28: 16-20

Picture this--you've watched Jesus die on the cross.  You've seen him raised from the dead.  You have seen him walk and talk and eat with you.  And  now, he gathers you on a mountain top, and tells you to wait for something very special called the Holy Spirit, which is coming.  His time on Earth physically is coming to an end, and you have one last opportunity to ask Jesus a question.  What do you ask him?

If you answered "I think I would ask him about politics," well, you are in good company, because that's what the Apostles did.  "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" basically means "so when are you going to kick out the Romans and put us in charge?"  In 1st Century Palestinian understanding, the Messiah would come to free the Jewish people, kick out the Romans, and restore the rightful Jewish monarchy--the "Kingdom of God."  Beginning around forty years after the Ascension, a series of folks would sequentially claim to be the Messiah and attempt to overthrow the rule of Rome by military force.  All of them would fail spectacularly.

Jesus spent his entire public ministry at once claiming to be the Messiah, while radically reinterpreting what that means.  Apparently, those efforts had limited impact on the Apostles, who couldn't shake the prevailing notion of the Messiah.  To them, all of what had happened--Jesus's miracles, Jesus's teachings, Jesus's death, Jesus's resurrection--had to be preludes to the real action of political change.

Needless to say, the Apostles missed the point in a massive way.  But it's easy to laugh at the naivety of the Apostles while ignoring our own.  We, too, have some very firm assumptions about how things are going to work out for us, and in some cases what God is going to do for us.  It is hard, often, to put aside your dreams and vision for the future.

But that's what Jesus is asking the Apostles to do here, and what he asks of us.  It will not work out the way you would expect.  It may not even work out the way you want, or in a way that is particularly pleasant in the short term.  We are not promised any particular outcomes.  What we are promised is that God will be with us, however it turns out.  He will not leave us alone, he will send the Holy Spirit to be with us.

This should be a source of great comfort, but also a great challenge.  It means we have to let go, to put aside our preconceived ideas and our goals.  But we don't do it alone.


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