Monday, May 11, 2015

Ascension of the Lord - May 17, 2015

First Reading Commentary
Saint Luke is the author of the Acts of the Apostles; and so, when he begins this book with the words, “In the first book,” he is referring to the Gospel of Luke. 

Theophilus is probably someone that Luke knew personally but the name “Theophilus” means, “friend of God” or “one who loves God” which may suggest that Luke intended this book to be read by all the faithful. 

“After giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen”; these words can be difficult to comprehend but the most accepted explanation among scholars is that Christ formed the Church; and He set up a governing authority to run that Church; and the decisions that would be made by the governing authority would be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The Scripture text suggests that Christ was still present in bodily form when giving these instructions; but the understanding is that after Christ’s Ascension into heaven, these instructions would still be given to the apostles through the Holy Spirit. 

“He presented Himself alive to them by many proofs after He had suffered”; skeptics of Christ’s Resurrection have asked why He appeared to only a few and not the masses.  When Jesus appeared to His apostles, they were terrified and were made to touch His Wounds to confirm what their eyes were seeing.  If those who were closest to Jesus were terrified, how much more affected would everyone else have been?  The miracles that were done through the hands of the apostles are proof of the Resurrection. 

“While meeting with them”; in the literal translation from the Latin Vulgate the words are, “And eating with them.” 

“In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” which refers to Pentecost, the day that the apostles would be sanctified with plentiful graces.

“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  This question shows that some of the apostles still had thoughts of a temporal kingdom.  Jesus quickly dismisses these thoughts and turns their attention to their ministry as witnesses of His teachings. 

He was lifted up or literally He lifted Himself up.  “Suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them”; these men were angels of God. 

“This Jesus Who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen Him going into heaven.”  Saint John Chrysostom explains that the word “going” suggests that Christ ascended by His own power and by His own power He will return to judge the world.  Saint Augustine’s homily on the Ascension opens with the words: “Today Jesus Christ our Lord went up to heaven; let our hearts go up with Him.”  What he meant by this was to obey the command of Saint Paul when he exhorts us to seek the things that are above where Christ is and not the things of this world. 

A cloud took Jesus from the sight of the apostles and today we still have that cloud, the veil of bread and wine which prevents us from seeing Him as He is.  The angels assure the apostles that Jesus will return but they discourage them from continuing to look into the sky because now the torch has been passed to them.  Jesus has now left His work, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to His Church. 

Second Reading Commentary
This Reading can be difficult to follow.  Most of it is intended to be a blessing much in the same manner that a priest nearing the end of Mass would say, “Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing.”  In this blessing, we bow our heads and pray that we will be given the Spirit of wisdom to know Jesus and be Jesus for others and also be able to recognize Jesus in others.  We also pray for the faith to know the greatness of His power and that through Him all things are possible because Jesus is far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.  Jesus is the Head over all things.

Gospel Commentary
“Whoever believes” to which Saint Gregory explains that belief or faith must be supported by good works for that only is true faith. 

“So then the Lord Jesus, after He spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took His seat at the right Hand of God”; this verse is written in such a way that it can be understood by the human senses.  God the Father is pure Spirit Who does not have a right Hand or any bodily shape.  The real Image of God is beyond our understanding.  The message here is that Jesus was raised to the height of glory, where nothing is higher, nothing is greater and He has, with the Father, equal authority over the universe because Jesus is not only true Man but also true God. 

“They went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs”; this final verse not only shows the works performed by the apostles but it is also intended to be an example to exhort us to do good works. 

Interestingly, this Gospel text was actually missing from Mark’s Gospel.  The original concluded with the empty tomb.  It may have been added to bear witness to Christ’s Ascension; however, another school of thought is that this ending was part of the original Gospel but transcribers left it out because the pages were either mutilated or missing.