THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD YEAR B ON MAY 16TH, 2021 (R. 1: Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47: 2-3, 6-7, 8-9; R. 2: Ephesians 1: 17-23 or Hebrews 9: 24-28; 10: 19-23; Gospel: Mark 16: 15-20)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
HOW TO IDENTIFY HIS MEMBERS
A young man became “born again,” and after reading the story of Daniel in the den of lions and other passages in the bible that talk about the wonders that believers can perform, he decided to test his own faith. He took his bible and went to the local zoo. Then he jumped into the lion’s enclosure and he screamed with his eyes closed, “Brother Lion, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I command you to kneel down and pray with me now!” After a few seconds, he opened one eye and he saw the lion kneeling down quietly in front of him. In his excitement, he said, “Praise God, Brother Lion! I am glad you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.” The lion then looked at him, yawned and said, “Be quiet and let me say the grace (prayer) before meal!”
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Someone explained the Ascension this way, “For those who don’t get it, the Ascension is when Jesus Christ began to work from home.” Yes, Jesus ascends today with his human body, but he also leaves behind his mystical body, which is the Church and we are all part of that mystical body, to carry on with his mission. How do we identify those who belong to this mystical body? Before his Ascension in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gives the qualities of his members. He says, “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly [poison], it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” How many of us fit into this description? Does it mean that those among us who speak only one language are not believers? Is Christianity like a circus where we have to give performances with serpents and other animals? Do we need to drink poisonous liquids to demonstrate our faith in Jesus? Do we need to take these words literally?
Let us examine the symbolism that some of these expressions have in biblical language. The first time we hear of the serpent in the Bible is Genesis 3:1ff when the serpent tempted Eve. The serpent started by asking Eve of what God had commanded. After getting a response, the serpent went on to twist the facts on ground, the serpent went on to offer an “alternative truth” or “alternative fact,” and that led to the fall of humanity. Here, the serpent stands for any regime, any person, any culture, any civilization etc that twists God’s words, that offers an alternative to what God has revealed in the Scripture or through Sacred Tradition. The one who picks up serpent and is unharmed, is the Christian who refuses to be intimidated and contaminated by voices that contradict divine revelation.
On the point of speaking new languages, those who learn new languages as adults know how challenging it is to move from your comfort zone to a new domain. We try to speak a new language because we love the people, we love their culture, and we desire to see the world through their eyes. We don’t embrace other people’s language to judge them, but to be able to communicate with them and see what reality looks like from their point of view. When Jesus talks about speaking new languages, it goes beyond learning a new language like English, Spanish, Idoma, Igala, etc. It entails trying to understand someone else’s position without first passing judgment. Jesus himself spoke a new language when as God, He became a human being like us to undergo our human experience, not for the sake of judging us but to save us. A believer is the one, who like Jesus, can embrace another person no matter his or her condition, not for the purpose of condemnation but for understanding, compassion and redemption as much as humanly possible.
What about drinking of poison? A poison is any substance that can bring about disorder, illness or death in an organism. Have you ever had a great visit with a friend, and after a few days you meet the same friend and he/she becomes strange to you? Many times, it happens that way because someone has gone to poison your friend’s mind against you after the last time you met. The information (poison) they got in the form of gossip about you has brought about the disorder or strangeness in them towards you. A true believer is the one who hears or drinks such poison or gossips and does not allow himself/herself to be controlled by the poison. A true believer will seek the help of the Holy Spirit, and go on to ascertain the truth of the matter. Even when the information is true, the believer will seek ways to remedy the situation rather than compete in evil.
The casting out of demons and the healing of the sick can be as literal as Jesus presents them in the Gospel today. However, not every believer has the grace to make the lame walk, but as little as offering a compassionate and non-judgmental presence to the lonely can drive the demon out of a person’s life. Using our little privileged position to be a voice for the voiceless and to defend the marginalized, can be a way of making the mute to speak. Jesus has given us the mandate to go and preach the gospel to all creatures. As He ascends into heaven today, may he take all our prayers and petitions to His Father in heaven, and may the descent of the Holy Spirit next Sunday bring answers to our prayers, through Christ our Lord. Amen.