A little girl was watching the sunset one Sunday evening with her mother. After a while, her mother said, “Did you know that God painted this just for you?” The little girl replied, “Yes, and it is just amazing that God painted it with his left hand.” At this point, the confused mom, asked, “What makes you say God did it with his left hand?” the little girl replied, “Well, at Sunday school, our teacher taught us that Jesus sits at God’s right hand, so God had to use his left hand.”

The first reading begins with the opening words of the Acts of the Apostles: “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up…” Which is the first book the Author of the Acts of the Apostles is talking about here? To answer this question, we must first figure out who wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Scholars generally agree that Luke is the Author, the same Luke who wrote the Gospel according to Luke. So, when he said, “In the first book … I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught…” he referred to the Gospel according to Luke. He began writing the Acts of the Apostles by addressing Theophilus just like he did at the beginning of the Gospel according to Luke.

Apart from the fact that both books, The Gospel according to Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles have the same Author, the Acts of the Apostles mirrors the Gospel according to Luke. The relationship is this: what happened to Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke is what happens to his followers in the Acts of the Apostles; what Jesus taught in the Gospel according to Luke is what his followers teach in the Acts of the Apostles; just like the religious leaders persecuted Jesus, so did they do to his followers; and just like Jesus performed miracles including raising the dead to life, so his disciples do in the Acts of the apostles.

The Gospel according to Luke presents the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, where he was arrested on false charges (Luke 9:51–19:28), and in Acts of the Apostles, we encounter the journey of Paul to Jerusalem, where he also was arrested on false charges (Acts 19:21–21:36). In Luke 5:17-26, Jesus performed a miracle by instructing the lame to “Stand up and walk.” in Acts 3:1-10; 14:8-11 Peter and Paul healed lame men with the command, “Get up” (Acts 9:36–40, 20:7–12; Luke 8:40–56).

Furthermore, the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 6:8–15, 7:54–60) mirrors the trial and crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 22–23). At his trial, Jesus said, “the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). At his martyrdom, Stephen, standing before the high priest, sees “the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Before he died on the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46); before he died, Stephen said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).

            Today, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. A reminder that Jesus came to earth on a mission. As God, he became a human being to make human beings divine. He has done his part of the job; he is returning to his Father in heaven. Before returning, he is empowering us to live like he lived. 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 those 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? Three years ago, I examined the symbolism that some of these expressions have in biblical language. Today, I will revisit two qualities: drinking poison and healing the sick.

Poison is any substance that can cause 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 they become strange to you? It happens often that way because someone poisoned 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. True believers hear or drink such gossip or poison and do not allow it to control them. True believers 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 believers will seek ways to remedy the situation rather than compete in evil. Casting out demons and healing 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, let us pray for the grace to live like Christ so that at our divinely appointed time, we may share in his heavenly glory through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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