Sunday, January 22, 2017

20 Mysteries: Jesus Ascends Into Heaven

Mark 16:15-20:

[15] And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
[16] He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. [17] And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues. [18] They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover. [19] And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God. [20] But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.

Luke 24:44-53:

[44] And he said to them: These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. [45] Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.
[46] And he said to them: Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, the third day: [47] And that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. [48] And you are witnesses of these things. [49] And I send the promise of my Father upon you: but stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high. [50] And he led them out as far as Bethania: and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.
[51] And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them, and was carried up to heaven. [52] And they adoring went back into Jerusalem with great joy. [53] And they were always in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.

Acts of the Apostles 1:6-12:

[6] They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? [7] But he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power: [8] But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth. [9] And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight. [10] And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments. 
[11] Who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven. [12] Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is nigh Jerusalem, within a sabbath day' s journey.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Hello dear reader. If you've been wondering where I've been, I apologize. There's not really much excuse on my part. Sure, things were a bit busier over the Christmas holidays, but if I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, I actually forgot all about the blog for a little while. Please forgive me.

So, we have comet to the final part of the Gospels, Jesus' Ascension. Two of the Gospels, Matthew and John, don't make record Jesus' Ascension (though Jesus does refer to His ascension in John's Gospel: John 20:[17]), but simply record some of Jesus' final words to the Apostles. However, as we see in Acts, Jesus appeared to the Apostles for forty days after His resurrection (see Acts of the Apostles 1:[3]), so there was much more that He said to them that wasn't recorded, as indicated in the final verses of John's Gospel.

I think this is really important, and I would like to say a bit about this forty day period.

40 Days

It's kind of clear that, throughout the Gospels, Jesus' teachings weren't very well understood by His disciples, even His Apostles. He frequently taught in Parable form, and often had to explain His parables to the Apostles afterward. Moreover, the Jews were expecting a military leader who would liberate Israel from the oppression of external powers. So, the part about Jesus having to suffer and die was really difficult for the Apostles to understand. They obviously didn't understand it, nor did they believe right away when Jesus resurrected. He had to prove to them that He wasn't just a ghost.

What was even less understood by the Apostles, and Jesus' disciples in general, was how Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, or even what scriptures were written about Him. I see the forty days that Jesus appeared to the Apostles after his resurrection as vitally important to their understanding of the Deposit of Faith which He was entrusting to them.

I believe I have already spoken about the significance of periods of forty back in my "Into the Desert" post, which was one of my first. Periods of forty are periods of preparation. The rains in Noah's day which wiped clean the earth of man's wickedness was forty days and forty nights; it was a time of preparation in advance of a new creation. The Israelites wandered the desert for forty years in preparation of entering the promised land, whereby they had to rid themselves of the idolatrous practices of Egypt, and ingrain the Laws of Moses into their culture, so that they could withstand the idolatry of the Canaanites. Jesus also stayed in the wilderness for forty days in preparation for His public ministry, enduring temptation from the devil.

This forty day period after Jesus' resurrection was also a time of preparation, whereby He opened the minds of the Apostles to the Scriptures, and to His teachings, in preparation of His departure from them (at least under normal appearances), and in preparation of their Mission as His Church. It was a time of preparation to receive the Promise of the Father; the Holy Spirit would come to them.

And You Shall Be Witnesses Unto Me

We cannot talk about Jesus' Ascension, nor about the time of preparation leading up to His departure, without speaking about His Great Commission to the Apostles. The Great Commission is the last command that He gives to the Apostles before He Ascends to the Father. The commands that He gives during His ministry, I would argue, pertain to the individual. Those are the things He expects from us as persons; they are moral imperatives.

But His teachings, His offering of Himself, is not for the Apostles only, or for the Jewish people only; it is not for a small group of people. His Gospel is meant for all people, but He has to go to the Father. Therefore, He commissions His Church, the ones He has entrusted His Gospel to, to take that Good News to all the peoples of the world.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus says: "[18] [...] All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. [19] Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. [20] Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."

In Mark 16:15-16, He says: "[15] [...] Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. [16] He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned."

In Luke 24:47-49, He says: "[47] [...] penance and remission of sins should be preached in [Christ's] name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. [48] And you are witnesses of these things. [49] And I send the promise of my Father upon you: but stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high."

Jesus commands His Church, therefore, to go out into the whole world and teach all nations, preach penance and remission of sins, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the of the Holy Ghost, and that whoever listens to the teaching and preaching of the Apostles, believing them, repenting and being baptized, will be saved. His Gospel, therefore, is one of hope, it is freedom from sin wrought by His victory of sin and death, it is the opening of the gates of Heaven to the whole world, and that God will take to Himself all who turn themselves to Him, whatever their past sins, and who repent from evil and wash themselves in His blood, which is righteousness.

I don't know about you, but that's good news for me.

The Right Hand of God

In Genesis 48, we see a strange exchange. Joseph, son of Israel (Jacob), brings his two sons Manasses and Ephraim to Israel to receive the blessing. This is the same blessing that Jacob bought from Esau, it is the blessing of the birthright; the blessing of the Covenant. The Covenantal blessing was also given to the "legitimate" Firstborn son. By legitimate, I mean the Firstborn son of the favored wife. So, for example, we see Ishmael was born before Isaac, but Ishmael wasn't Sara's son, he was the son of her concubine. Sara's son, Isaac, was the true Firstborn. Thus, Isaac received the blessing, not Ishmael.

I also say favored because even though Jacob had twelve sons, only two came from Rachel, the wife he loved (he was forced into marrying Leah). Joseph was Jacob's 11th son, but was considered the Firstborn, and was to receive Jacob's blessing, which is why his brothers were jealous.

Anyway, Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob to receive this Covenantal blessing from Jacob, who is now Israel. Manasses is the older of the two, and Ephraim the younger. Joseph puts them before Israel, setting Manasses to Israel's right, and Ephraim to Israel's left. When Israel goes to bless them, though, he crosses his arms, and places his right hand on Ephraim's head, and his left hand on Manasses' head. Joseph gets upset by this, and tries to put Israel's right hand on Manasses' head saying, "It should not be so, my father: for this is the firstborn, put thy right hand upon his head." Israel responds, "I know, my son, I know: and this also shall become peoples, and shall be multiplied: but this younger brother shall be greater than he: and his seed shall grow into nations."

What we're witnessing here is a practice by the ancient Hebrews whereby the right hand was a sign of greater blessing, or honor. The placement of Israel's hands indicated who would receive the blessing of the Covenant. The blessing was passed through the right hand, and even though Manasses was the Firstborn, Israel had received a vision indicating that the blessing would pass to the seed of Ephraim, which is why Israel placed his right hand on Ephraim's head instead.

This exchange gives us insight into why Jacob named his 12th son Benjamin. He had intended to give the blessing to Joseph, but when Joseph was lost, he hadn't yet given his blessing. Thus, when Rachel gave birth to another son, Jacob called him Benjamin, which means "son of the right hand" because he intended to give his blessing to him (when he was old enough).

The right hand, then, is a symbol of blessing. But, it's also a symbol of power: Exodus 15:6: "[6] Thy right hand, O Lord, is magnified in strength: thy right hand, O Lord, hath slain the enemy." The right hand was also important in Jewish sin-cleansing rituals (see Leviticus 14:14). God gave Moses the Law from His right hand (Deuteronomy 33:2: "[2] [...] In his right hand a fiery law."). It was a place of honor for the queen mother in the court of King David (3 Kings (1 Kings) 2:19). It is also a symbol of judgement (Matthew 25:33: "And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.").

In Mark, we're told that when Jesus ascended into Heaven, He went to sit at the right hand of God. All of these symbols should be brought to mind, then, within the context of Jewish tradition. It is a seat of blessing; from there, Jesus will bless His people with the blessings of the New Covenant. It is a seat of power; from there, Jesus will rule as King in the Kingdom of Heaven, as All Power is given to Him. It is a seat of cleansing; one of the blessings of the New Covenant, one of the Powers that He will exercise in His Kingdom, is the cleansing of the Baptized, and of those who repent and do penance unto the remission of their sins, drawing on the work of His sacrifice as High Priest. It is a seat of Law; from there, He will ensure that His Church will never fall into error by sending the Holy Spirit to His Apostles to teach His people righteousness. It is a seat of honor; from there, Jesus will receive all glory and praise from His new creation. It is a seat of judgement; from there, He will separate the righteous from the wicked.

This is truly a glorious mystery. Let us stand in awe before our Lord who sits at the right hand of God with all power and majesty.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you.

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