Ascension: Mission-sending
May 12, 2002

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

Seven weeks ago, we celebrated Easter, the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the sending down of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven.

The Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost are not separate mysteries of our faith. Rather, they represent partial aspects of the one great mystery of our redemption: the Risen Jesus, having sent down His Spirit to the apostles after His Ascension, is now Lord of heaven and earth. What this last means is that the Father, as St. Paul writes, has "put all things under Jesus' feet" (Eph. 1:22). It is as such that we are to accept as well as proclaim Him to others.

If we take a closer look at the Ascension accounts of the three Evangelists (only John had none), we can see a major difference in emphasis among them. Luke and Mark picture the Ascension as a leave-taking: Jesus is lifted-up, taken up by a cloud (a sign of God's presence), and exalted in the glory of the Father. Matthew, on the other hand, describes it as a mission sending (Mt. 28:16-20).

The setting that Matthew provided for the Ascension tells us how significant the mission-sending was for him. The giving of the Ten Commandment by God to Moses took place in a mountain. So did His three temptations, Sermon of the Mount, and Transfiguration -- all turning points in His mission. Now, His Ascension. Matthew, a Jew writing to Jewish Christians, wanted them to notice the "mountain" allusion in the Ascension so that they would realize his particular emphasis: The Eleven and their successors were given the primary responsibility to carry on with Jesus' mission -- "until the end of the age."

Who were these Eleven? They where the ones whom Jesus personally called and who followed Him for three years, listened to His words and witnessed His deeds, were given private instructions, were witnesses to His death and Resurrection and finally, were recipients of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it can be said that for Matthew everything that went before the Ascension was just a preparation and material for the Eleven's mission-sending. For among the four evangelists, it was Matthew who showed us how Jesus took extra efforts to teach His apostles what discipleship was all about and formed them accordingly. This was to prepare them for the day when they would take over from where He would return to the Father. Thus per Matthew's account, Jesus could finally and confidently tell the Eleven at His Ascension: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

With Jesus Ascension, the baton has been passed on to the apostles! And their mission is mindboggling. Because the Father has "put all things under Jesus' feet," that is, had given Him total power over the universe, their mission too is universal, i.e, "make disciples of all nations...." And for them to be able to carry this mission out, Jesus promised that He would always be with them: "Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

Jesus fulfilled this promise by sending His Spirit upon the apostles after His Ascension. In this regard, for John the Evangelist, the Spirit is the presence on earth of Jesus Who has returned to the Father. Thus, the same Jesus is present among them and their successors through His Spirit.

All this took place two thousand years ago. But the task of carrying out the mission of proclaiming the Good News goes on from generation to generation. Now, in union with our bishops -- the successors of the apostles -- it is our turn. And with them we must not fear nor shirk at this responsibility. For as was true with the apostles, the Holy Spirit is with us: "The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name -- he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you" (Jn. 14:26).

Definitely our mission today is vastly different from that of the apostles. Regardless, the goal remains the same: To make Christ known to people so that by accepting and believing in Him as their Lord and Savior, they, too, will attain salvation. These people can be anyone: members of our own family, a neighbor, a stranger, someone who never heard of Jesus -- regardless of race, gender and belief.

There is one truth we must always remember. By our baptism, we belong to the Church which by its very nature is missionary. Our baptism thus makes us missionaries. This means that the faith we have received we must also pass on to others -- by our words and example -- so that like us, they, too, will believe in Jesus and thus be saved.