The Ascension of the Lord (A)
Go into the whole world
1. Opening prayer
a) A key to guide the reading:
b) A division of chapter 14 to help with the reading:
c) The text:
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may enter into us and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What struck you and touched your heart most?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to go deeper into the text.
a) The context of Matthew’s Gospel
* Matthew’s Gospel, written about the year 85, is addressed to a community of converted Jews who lived in Syria-Palestine. They were going through a deep identity crisis concerning their past. When they accepted Jesus as the awaited Messiah, they continued to go to the synagogue and to observe the law and the ancient traditions. Moreover, they had a certain affinity with the Pharisees, and after the revolution of the Jews in Palestine against the Romans (65 to 72), they and the Pharisees were the only two groups to have survived the Roman oppression.
* From the 80s, these Jewish brothers, Pharisees and Christians, only survivors, began to fight among themselves as to who had inherited the promises of the OT. Each claimed to be the inheritors. Gradually, tension grew between them and they began to excommunicate each other. The Christians could no longer attend the synagogue and were cut off from their past. Each group began to regroup: the Pharisees in the synagogue, the Christians in church. This added to the identity problem of the community of Jewish Christians because it raised serious questions in need of urgent solutions. "Who has inherited the promises of the OT, those of the synagogue or those of the church? On whose side is God? Who are really the people of God?
* Now, Matthew writes his Gospel to help these communities overcome their crisis and to find an answer to their problems. His Gospel is, first of all, a Gospel of revelation showing how Jesus is the true Messiah, the new Moses, the culmination of the whole of the history of the OT and its promises. It is also the Gospel of consolation for those who felt excluded and persecuted by their Jewish brothers. Matthew wants to console and help them to overcome the trauma of the split. It is the Gospel of the new practice because it shows the way to achieve a new justice, greater than that of the Pharisees. It is the Gospel of openness and shows that the Good News of God that Jesus brought cannot be hidden, but must be placed on a candlestick so that it may enlighten the life of all peoples.
b) Commentary on the text of Matthew 28: 16-20
* Matthew 28:16: Returning to Galilee: It was
in Galilee that it all began (Mt 4:12). It was there that the disciples
first heard the call (Mt 4:15) and it was there that Jesus promised
to reunite them again after the resurrection (Mt 26:31). In Luke, Jesus
forbids them to leave Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). In Matthew they are commanded
to leave Jerusalem and go back to Galilee (Mt 28: 7.10). Each evangelist
has his own way of presenting the person of Jesus and his plans. For
Luke, after the resurrection of Jesus, the proclamation of the Good
News has to begin in Jerusalem in order to reach to the ends of the
earth (Acts 1:8). For Matthew, the proclamation begins in Galilee of
the pagans (Mt 4:15) in order to prefigure the passage from the Jews
to the pagans.
* Matthew 28:17: Some doubted: The first Christians had great difficulty in believing in the resurrection. The evangelists insist in saying that they doubted a lot and did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus (Mk 16:11.13.14; Lk 24:22.214.171.124.41; Jn 20:25). Faith in the resurrection was a slow and difficult process, but ended by being the greatest certainty of Christians (1Cor 15:3-34).
* Matthew 28:18: All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me: The passive form of the verb shows that Jesus received his authority from the Father. What is this authority? In the Apocalypse, the Lamb (the risen Jesus) received from the hand of God the book with seven seals (Ap 5:7) and became the Lord of history, he who must assume the responsibility for the execution of God’s project as described in the sealed book, and as such is adored by all creatures (Ap 12:11-14). By his authority and power he conquers the Dragon, the power of evil (Ap 12:1-9). And captures the Beast and the false prophet, symbols of the Roman Empire (Ap 19:20). In the Creed at Mass we say that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, thus becoming the judge of the living and the dead.
* Matthew 28:19-20a: Jesus’ last words: three commands to the disciples: Vested with supreme authority, Jesus passes on three orders to the disciples and to all of us: (i) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations; (ii) baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; (iii) teach them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you.
i) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations:
To be a disciple is
not the same as being a student. A disciple is in relation to
the master. A student is in relation to the teacher. The disciple lives
with the master 24 hours a day; the student receives lessons from the
teacher for a few hours then goes back home. The disciple presupposes
a community. The student presupposes being present in a classroom for
lessons. The state of discipleship in those days was marked by the
expression to follow the master. In the Carmelite Rule we read: To
live in obedience to Jesus Christ. For the first Christians, to
follow Jesus meant three connected things:
ii) Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: The Trinity is the source, the end and the way. Those baptised in the name of the Father, revealed in Jesus, commit themselves to live as brothers and sisters in fraternity. And if God is Father, we are all brothers and sisters. Those baptised in the name of the Son, Jesus, commit themselves to imitate Jesus and to follow him even unto the cross in order to rise with him. And the power that Jesus received from the Father is a creative power that conquers death. Those baptised in the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus on the day of Pentecost, commit themselves to interiorising fraternity and the following of Jesus, allowing themselves to be led by the Spirit alive in the community.
iii) Teaching them to observe all my commands: For us Christians, Jesus is the New Law of God, proclaimed from on high in the mountain. Jesus is the chosen of the Father as the new Moses, whose word is law for us. "Hear him" (Mt 17:15). The Spirit sent by him will remind us of all the things he taught us (Jn 14:26; 16:13). The observance of the new Law of love is balanced by the gratuitous presence of Jesus in our midst, till the end of time.
* Matthew 28:20b: I am with you always, even to the end of time: When Moses was sent to free the people from Egypt, he received a guarantee from God, the only guarantee that offers complete certainty: "Go, I shall be with you!" (Ex 3:12). It is the same certainty promised to the prophets and other persons sent by God to undertake an important mission in God’s plan (Jer 1:8; Jud 6:16). Mary received the same guarantee when the angel said to her, "The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). The person of Jesus is the living expression of this guarantee, because his name is Emmanuel, God with us (Mt 1:23). He will be with his disciples, with all of us, even to the end of time. Here we see Jesus’ authority. He controls history and time. He is the first and the last (Ap 1:17). Before the first, nothing existed and after the last, nothing is. This guarantee sustains people, nourishes their faith, sustains hope and generates love and the gift of oneself.
c) Highlighting the words of Jesus: The universal mission of the community.
Abraham was called to be the source of blessings not only for his descendants, but for all families on earth (Gen 12:3). The slave people were called not only to restore the tribe of Jacob, but also to be light to the nations (Is 49:6; 42:6). The prophet Amos said that God not only freed Israel from Egypt, but also the Philistines from Kaftor and the Aramaians from Quir (Am 9:7). God, then, looks after and is concerned for the Israelites as well as for the Philistines and the Aramaians who were the greatest enemies of the people of Israel! The prophet Elijah thought he was the only defender of God (Kings 19:10.14), but he had to be told that apart from himself there were seven thousand others! (1Kings 18:18) The prophet Jonah wanted Yahweh to be only the God of Israel, but had to admit that he is the God of all nations, even the inhabitants of Niniveh, the bitterest enemies of Israel (Jo 4:1-11). In the New Testament, John, the disciple, wanted Jesus only for the little group, for the community, but Jesus corrected him and said, He who is not against me is for me! (Mk 9:348-40).
At the end of the first century after Christ, the difficulties and persecutions could have driven the Christian communities into losing the missionary impetus and to close in on themselves, as if they were the only ones defending the values of the Kingdom. But Matthew’s Gospel, faithful to this long tradition of openness to all nations, tells the communities that they cannot close in on themselves. They cannot claim for themselves a monopoly on the action of God in the world. God is not the community’s property; rather the community is Yahweh’s property (Ex 19:5). In the midst of humanity that struggles against and resists oppression, the communities must be salt and yeast (Mt 5:13; 13:33). They must proclaim aloud to the whole world, among all nations, the Good News that Jesus brought us. God is present in our midst, the same God who, in Exodus, commits himself to free those who call on his name! (Ex 3:7-12). This is our mission. If this salt loses its savour, what will it be good for? "It is of no use for the earth or for the fertiliser" (Lk 14:35)
6. Psalm 150
Give praise with blasts upon the horn,
Give praise with crashing cymbals,
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
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