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Breath of the Spirit 5.4.2008

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  • John Schott
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2008
      > Breath of the Spirit
      > RVC's Weekly Spiritual Essay
      > MAY 4, 2008: ASCENSION OF JESUS
      > Readings:
      > Acts 1:1-11
      > Ephesians 1:17-23
      > Matthew 28:16-20
      > One of the most fascinating aspects of today's celebration of Jesus'
      > ascension is that the gospel we employ for our liturgical reading
      > mentions
      > nothing about Jesus' ascension. Though most of us presume the next
      > thing
      > Jesus does after he assures his disciples, "I am with you always,
      > until the
      > end of the age," is to start rising into heaven, Matthew never says
      > that.
      > His gospel ends at this point.
      > Scripture scholars have been warning us for a long time that we
      > can't take
      > for granted one evangelist knows what any other evangelist wrote.
      > Experts
      > debate whether John was familiar with Mark, Matthew and Luke. But
      > everyone
      > agrees Matthew and Luke knew only Mark (the first evangelist) and
      > they're
      > also convinced Matthew and Luke didn't know one another. So we
      > can't argue
      > that Matthew didn't need to finish his narrative with an actual
      > ascension
      > because "everybody" already knew that's what happened. Unless
      > someone reads
      > Luke/Acts, he or she doesn't know that. (There's no ascension in
      > Mark's
      > canonical gospel.) Besides, the meeting Matthew describes between
      > Jesus and
      > his disciples takes place on a mountain "in Galilee." The ascension
      > event
      > Luke depicts in our first reading takes place outside Jerusalem on
      > the Mt.
      > of Olives, at least 60 miles south of Galilee!
      > Knowing this, Luke's opening Acts narrative of Jesus ascending into
      > heaven
      > after 40 days of instructing "the apostles he had chosen" is, to
      > say the
      > least, problematic.
      > One key to unlock the confusion is to understand that it took Jesus'
      > earliest followers a long time to "sort things out." They certainly
      > didn't
      > have everything together by Pentecost evening. Most people don't
      > realize
      > there's at least a 40 year interval between Jesus' death and
      > resurrection
      > and the writing of the first gospel.
      > Paul's letters are the only writing which have come down to us from
      > that
      > interval. That's why our Ephesians passage is so significant.
      > Though Paul
      > originally expected Jesus to triumphantly return during his
      > lifetime, he
      > doesn't seem to have been too worried about Jesus' zip code before
      > that
      > return. The Apostle certainly believes the risen Jesus is present
      > in the
      > midst of his followers. (He even told the Corinthians, "Jesus
      > appeared to
      > me!") But at the same time he can theologize, "(God) worked in Christ,
      > raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the
      > heavens
      > ... And he put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head
      > over all
      > things to the church, which is his body . . . ."
      > Paul's being more poetic than geographic. He's concerned his readers
      > understand that the risen Jesus is at the center of their life and
      > faith. He
      > employs symbolic language to convey that reality.
      > In a parallel way, Matthew wants to convince his community that
      > Jesus both
      > commissions them to carry on his ministry" to all nations," and
      > guarantees;
      > "I am with you always, until the end of the age."
      > Luke, the first author of the Christian Scriptures to believe Jesus
      > isn't
      > going to return in the Parousia during his lifetime, has a somewhat
      > different agenda. He's concerned with those in his community who
      > are still
      > "looking at the sky," spending their time planning for Jesus'
      > return instead
      > of carrying on Jesus' ministry. The "two men dressed in white
      > garments" are
      > telling Jesus' followers, "Ok, you've got work to do; so do it!"
      > Perhaps the theological diversity in today's three readings should
      > inspire
      > us to respect the theological diversity that exists in Christianity
      > even
      > today.
      > Our sacred authors constantly tell us that one theology doesn't fit
      > everyone's faith needs.
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