After Jesus' Ascension don't just sit there - Witness!

Homily for the Ascension of the Lord Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

After Jesus’ ascension what are we to do? Do we sit around and wait for something to happen or do we go and do something? Sitting around and waiting for something to happen is the mistaken view of some disciples in Luke’s account of the ascension which we heard in the first reading, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) They had a mistaken view of Jesus and his mission. The Roman Empire spread east and conquered Palestine in 63 BC and these disciples mistakenly thought Jesus would do something to drive out the Romans and restore self-rule to Israel. But that was not Jesus’ mission. In the Old Covenant the Chosen People were called by God from their slavery in Egypt, led through the sea during the exodus, and led into the Promised Land of Canaan. But everything changes in the New Testament. The inheritance is not the physical land of Israel. Now the inheritance is heaven; the journey from slavery in Egypt is now a journey from sin crossing through the sea of baptism. Now in the New Covenant the journey is from sin to heaven. Land is not part of the New Covenant. The inheritance in the New Covenant is heaven but these disciples mentioned by Luke in our first reading did not yet understand the huge change from the Old to the New Covenant.

There are some who today also misunderstand the New Covenant. I think of those who believe that morality and the situation of Christians in the world will get progressively worse before a seven year tribulation to be followed by the rapture during which they believe all Christians will be raptured up to heaven. Following the rapture they believe only Jews and Gentiles will remain on earth and Palestine will become the land of Israel as in the Old Covenant, under the rulership of the 144,000 Jews (Rev 7:4) who will govern the earth for 1000 years converting the Gentiles (Rev 20:3,5,7), before the end comes. If you believe the world is going to become progressively worse until a seven year tribulation what incentive is there to do anything to improve the world or change the culture of the world? Why would you bother? You would be only slowing down what is inevitable and delaying the Second Coming of Jesus.

There is another view, the one we see in Scripture today. After Jesus’ ascension what are we to do? Do we sit around and wait for something to happen or do we go and do something? How did Jesus respond to the question of the disciples in the first reading about restoring the kingdom to Israel? He said,

“It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

We are not to sit around and wait, we are to do something, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Clearly we are not to sit back and just let society and the culture around us rot. We are called to make society and the culture holy and we can do by witnessing that we follow Christ. The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) published 16 very important documents and one of the documents reminds us that the laity are called to make the world holy in ways which only the laity can,

Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth (Vatican II Lumen Gentium §33)

…even when preoccupied with temporal cares, the laity can and must perform a work of great value for the evangelization of the world. (Vatican II Lumen Gentium §35)

…let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy the customs and conditions of the world, if they are an inducement to sin, so that they all may be conformed to the norms of justice and may favor the practice of virtue rather than hinder it. By so doing they will imbue culture and human activity with genuine moral values…(Vatican II Lumen Gentium §36)

Clearly Catholic politicians are called not to make the rot of society become law but to make laws that reflect who we really are, children of God. If someone believes he/she is a Catholic outside the voting chamber but it changes inside the voting chamber, to me that seems to suggest schizophrenia.

(A section has been omitted here since it was relevant for a particular time and place.)

After Jesus’ ascension what are we to do? Do we sit around and wait for something to happen or do we go and do something? Sitting around and waiting for something to happen is the mistaken view of some disciples in Luke’s account of the ascension which we heard in the first reading and of some Christians today. Jesus said we are not to sit around and wait, we are to do something, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In the Gospel Jesus was even more specific when talking to the Apostles. Before Jesus ascended, he entrusted his mission to the Apostles saying, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” (Matt 28:19) While that mission was entrusted to the Apostles, and to the bishops who are the successors of the Apostles, and their assistants, the priests, you can assist them in their mission to evangelize by praying for them and by giving witness that you follow Christ, especially in those situations where you are the one to witness to Christ. Is Christ relying on you to witness to him where no one else will? I conclude with part of the prayer in the second reading today,

May God our Father...enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that he has exercised for us believers. (Eph 1:17-19)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Ascension of the Lord Year A

Related Homilies: Enlightened to our Calling and Destiny

Jesus Continues to be Present in his Church after his Ascension

Waiting in Prayer for the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Jesus' Ascension for our Salvation - Praying together before Pentecost 2011

First reading, witnesses to the ends of the earth: Church growing through trials