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Ascension of the Lord, May 19-20, 2012

posted May 20, 2012, 6:10 AM by fathermark@stmaryshuntingburg.org

            Today, we have two accounts of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven ... how, after his death and resurrection from the dead, he was lifted up into heaven.

In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives us one version.

And in the Gospel, we hear the same story from the perspective of St. Mark.

In both, we learn that, before ascending into heaven, the Risen Jesus gathered his disciples together, and told them that it was time for them to take up his mission.

And, in the Acts of the Apostles, he says that the disciples will receive the Holy Spirit in order to be his "witnesses" to the "ends of the earth."

The disciples must be his "witnesses."


            Now, the word "witness" is certainly familiar to all of us.

We've all seen the crime dramas on television where the detectives are looking for "witnesses" ... someone who "witnessed" the crime ... "witnesses" who will testify in court.

These "witnesses" have seen the crime with their own eyes  ... and they're going to report on exactly what they've seen.

As Detective Joe Friday used to say with that deadpan face on that classic TV show, "Dragnet," from the 50s and 60s: "Just the facts, m'am .... just the facts."

That's what TV detectives want from their witnesses: "Just the facts."


            But that's not exactly the kind of "witnesses" that Jesus is talking about.

The "witnesses" of Jesus aren't necessarily people who've seen all the things that Jesus did with their own eyes.

Jesus isn't interested in witnesses who can simply report the facts: ... "yeah, Jesus lived two thousand years ago; he died on a Cross; and his disciples claimed that he rose from the dead and was lifted up into heaven. "

Jesus isn't asking for "disinterested" bystanders or "objective" bystanders who happened to see something that they can take or leave.

The witnesses that Jesus wants are witnesses to something that they really ... truly ... personally ... believe ...

Jesus wants witnesses who have come to know why he—his life, his teaching, his death, and resurrection—are Good News!

He wants witnesses who will testify that Jesus—his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection—are the true measure of what is truly important, real, and right.


            In fact, when the Acts of the Apostles reports Jesus calls on his disciples to be his "witnesses" ... the Greek word used is the word "martyr."

The word "martyr" means "witness."

Jesus wants his disciples to be martyrs ... not necessarily martyrs who literally give their lives for the faith ... but also not disinterested bystanders ...

Jesus wants his disciples to be martyrs in the sense of people who give testimony to what they believe ... what they are prepared to stake their lives on.


            Christian martyrs from the beginning to today are not literally witnesses to facts.

They probably haven't seen anything new with their physical eyes.

Christian martyrs—witnesses—are people who have come to know the Risen Jesus himself ... people who have come to realize the truth that Jesus taught and lived and demonstrated ...

... that love of others, rather than love of self, is really what fulfills us

... that things like service and forgiveness and compassion and kindness make us better human beings

... that the things of heaven matter far more than the merely things of earth ...

... that trust in God, whatever might come, is the true source of peace ... whatever might come.


            "Be my witnesses," Jesus says to you and me today.

Don't just learn the facts about the faith.

Don't just go through the motions.

But come to believe the truth ... come to believe ... and then give testimony ... witness ... evidence of your belief ... to the ends of the earth ... or at least in the little corner of the earth in which you live.


            St. Francis of Assisi famously told his friars that they should "preach always "... that is, spread the Good News always ... and "sometimes use words."

You and I must be witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ ... and sometimes we must use words.

The rest of the time, we have to give witness by how we live our lives ... by the example that we give.