Bible Reflection (12 May 2024)

The Ascension Of The Lord, Year B

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 4:1-13
Mark 16:15-20

Our call to persevere and serve.

Why do we become Christians? Being Christians does not mean that all our problems would go away. In fact, in today’s secular culture, being Christians often invites ridicule or even persecution. So, what do we do? Why would we still remain committed to our Chirstian faith? For some Catholics, in times of difficulties, we would give up or take things into our own hands. This was what Abraham did when the child God promised him did not eventuate at the time of his choosing. He took in his slave girl Hagar and conceived a child with her (Gen 16:1-4). For his disobedience and impatience, Abraham’s action brought him and his family much disaccord. In times of difficulties, though it may be counter-intuitive to us, the Lord calls us to stay the course and await further prompting and revelations from Him. This was what Jesus commanded His disciples to do in the First Reading: “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'” (verse 4-5) To put this into context, at that time, many of Jesus’ followers were being persecuted in Jerusalem. It was understandable that some might want to escape from Jerusalem. Others might want to spread the faith elsewhere, where they would be more welcome. But Jesus told them “no”, at least “not yet”. Our Lord did not explain the reason for His instructions. The disciple just have to show faith and trust Him. Often, we are called to do the same. Have we done so?

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know it was God’s plan that the disciples would eventually spread out from Jerusalem and bring the faith to wherever they go (Acts 8:1). But this was not to happen before God equipped them. Jesus promised His disciples in the First Reading that He will equip them for the mission ahead: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (verse 8) St Paul, understanding how God has equipped and called him to service, said in the Second Reading: “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (verse 8) He added: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (verse 11-12). In the Gospel, Jesus promised the same to his followers as He prepared them for the mission ahead: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (verse 17-18)

But even when we understand that God has a plan for us; and our current challenges are but a stepping stone that God will use to fulfill His divine plan, it is still difficult to stay the course. For as mere humans, we often could not see beyond our current predicaments. In the Second Reading, St Paul urges us to persevere: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (verse 1). But how do we gain this kind of perseverance that St Paul demonstrated in his life? The answer lies in us encountering the triumphs of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Without encountering Jesus’ triumphs, it is very difficult to persevere indeed. How do we encounter Jesus, or more specifically His triumphs? We do so by regular reflection of the Bible, by regular contemplation and meditation. Bible study helps us to reflect on God’s Word; contemplation helps us to discern His will; and meditation helps to experience His presence. In truth, if I do not prepare my heart in this way, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension do not just come to a passive heart. I need to put in the effort to encounter Him – to open myself to His grace; to learn how to be docile and receptive to Him. There is no shortcut, no magical rituals, just plain old relationship building – just we would when building up any human relationship.

It is worth noting that, being the Feast of Ascension, all three Scripture passages this week ended with an account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9, Eph 4:10, Mk 16:19). This is pertinent. It means that post-ascension, we are now the hands, feet and mouth pieces of Jesus. It means He would fill us with the Holy Spirit and equip us to carry out His mission. It means that our faith is not a passive faith, but one where we are called to bring the Good News to the world, in partnership with Jesus. It means that it is now up to us, to invite Jesus into us and have Him act through us. Whether it is in charitable work, in evangelisation, or in showing love, mercy and forgiveness to others, we are partners in Jesus’ mission.

My dear friends, let us persevere. Let us be docile and accept His will for us. Let us go forth to love and to serve. Amen.