HOMILY ASCENSION SUNDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
THE GREAT COMMISSION TO GO OUT TO ALL
Mt 28.16-20 AA 1.1-11 Eph 1.17-23
(OLN: Rhyme Bible “Good News” Easter Story)
This weekend, with the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, we clearly see the universal and inclusive nature of Jesus’ final parting message, known as ‘The Great Commission’. The mission is expanded to go out to all, to the ends of the earth (which is rather a long way!), proclaiming a message of good news about a God of love, mercy and forgiveness. No limits exist, and there is an understanding that this is a role for all believers, to take the teachings of Jesus to heart, to live them in action, and to encourage others to follow his way.
The Jerome Biblical Commentary describes this text, whilst a brief ending to Matthew’s Gospel, as rich in theological and practical application. Teaching and learning is part of it, as well as the sacramental practice of initiation through Baptism, using the Trinitarian formula, which is thought to have been in use in Matthew’s Christian communities when the Gospel was being formulated. (We celebrate Trinity Sunday in 2 weeks’ time). The complexities and finer points of theology took centuries to formulate in the Creeds, however, over which there was much misunderstanding, conflict and dissension.
Matthew’s Gospel has a number of educational and instructional discourses of Jesus, outlining the practical side as to how believers should live in relation to others, starting with the Beatitudes, the positive attitudes for living Christian life, and ending with the Last Judgement scene, describing how we are to be judged in regard to how we have responded to providing for others, reflecting on the fundamental human physical and psychological needs, from hunger to thirst to clothing to sickness to imprisonment, very basic stuff. It amounts more to a practical than detailed theological basis on which to base one’s life, but coming from Jesus’ law of love.
Theology evolves later, from the fundamental truth of faith that Jesus incarnate among us, now risen and returned to the Father, reveals a God in the image of a loving and forgiving father, summed up in the Lord’s Prayer, our common Christian prayer, across all the denominations.
(On Friday evening we celebrated Confirmation with Bishop Terry Curtin with 90 or so of our Grade 6 students, and their families, in a great spirit of respect, prayerfulness, enthusiasm and community support. The hope is that our young people will continue to produce the fruits of the Spirit in the way they take the message of Jesus to heart, and are guided by his spirit in their lives. Education in faith is a start, but its practical application is a necessary aspect of following it through in life.)
Now, after doing 1:1 Reconciliation with about 50 Grade 3’s here and 75 or so at St Therese’s (how do you think I felt after all that?), following our communal celebration all in together with parents and students, a few months ago, we have our OLN students here, preparing for First Eucharist in a few weeks. It’s the next step of Christian initiation in our Catholic tradition, remembering that catholic also means universal, so all are welcome. We look forward to celebrating here with our young people and their families on this special occasion of growth in faith and life.
I often say that whatever one’s beliefs, no-one can deny that the message of Jesus, based on love, truth and peace, is a good way of living one’s life well, and a way too of finding happiness and fulfilment through looking beyond oneself and to the good of others.
The trouble is, though, when we look at history, we see that the message has so often been distorted into misinterpretation that one group is better than another, or vice versa, and that differences in culture and colour are reason for exclusion, rather than harmony. Religion as an excuse for conflict is clearly so wrong, totally opposed to Jesus’ teaching, and yet, when we look at human history how many wars have been fought over religious differences? When will we ever learn?
It starts at home, and here we are, committing ourselves to spreading the Gospel by the people we are in living as disciples of Jesus, taking his principles to heart, the law of love at the centre of it all. This is the mission he gives us, as he gives to the disciples as he farewells them, but challenges them to continue that mission.
So we celebrate Ascension, the physical departure of Jesus from us, but not like a rocket with gravitational escape velocity, launching from the top of the Mount of Olives or Mount Sinai, but into the spiritual world of the mysterious God of love and life to whom he leads us, guided by his Spirit, whose coming we commemorate next weekend at Pentecost. In John’s Gospel, it all happens on the same day as Resurrection, but Matthew, like Luke, likes to space it all out, but the final farewell has now happened, and it’s up to his followers to continue the mission, with Jesus’ authority. That goes for us too here and now.
And Claude Mostowik MSC, chairman of Pax Australia, also has something to say: “Instead of looking up to the sky, the Spirit leads us down the mountain to be with and engage the waiting world below… We are not sent out with a rigid ideology or a fully spelled out set of rules, but rather with a spirit and heart that is open to all, that proclaims God’s acceptance and embrace of all… Today’s feast is not about the disappearance of Jesus, but about a new way of being present. Jesus is always with us and in all places and in all people.”
And now a story about bringing peace, and so, love to others, starting at home, with family and friends: “A Boy Like Me” (by Libby Hathorn, illustrated by Bruce Whatley).
john hannon 21st May 2023