This reflection is based on Mark 16:15-22 for Ascension Sunday.
This parting with the disciples as the Lord is taken up to heaven–that makes two goodbyes in a row.
A little over a month earlier, they’ve just been through that long, emotional goodbye at the Last Supper, the night of the Lord’s arrest and the eve of his crucifixion. Things are different now: Unlike then, this time the disciples have come to understand that Jesus is indeed Lord, raised by God from a death horrible and humiliating beyond words. Who would have known he would muster a comeback like that?
After spending forty days with them, Jesus says goodbye again and disappears from sight. He is never to be seen again–at least not in the way that the disciples have grown accustomed to during his earthly life. The angels in the First Reading assure them of Jesus’ return, but mince no words about what they should not be doing: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
What they’re saying is: Don’t just stand there and wait passively for the Lord’s return. Between this goodbye and the next hello, there’s work to be done!
So what kind of work are we asked to do? There are many ways of answering that question, but I propose we draw our answers from Peter and Paul.
We all know that Simon Peter used to be a fisherman. The first time our Lord bumped into him, he was mending his nets along with his brother Andrew with fellow fishermen James and John. The Lord’s invitation to them to follow him may well be addressed to us today: to become fishers of men and women.
The main task of Christ’s followers is to win people over to Him. We know we can’t do this by forcing others. We can talk about the Good News, but a more eloquent preaching is accomplished by an exemplary Christian life. Nothing beats a loving, humble, and happy Christian. So the first question we need to ask ourselves today is: Am I loving enough, humble enough, and happy enough to draw people closer to Jesus?
There is no better example today of a loving, humble, and happy Christian than Pope Francis himself. His rock-star status is not the result of a media-savvy PR machinery. The inspiration that the Holy Father is able to shine on the world is rooted in his consistent efforts at being Christlike, by walking his talk, by being loving, humble, and–we often neglect this–happy. It is no accident that every single letter he has written has something to do with joy: “Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii gaudium) “Praise Be to You” (Laudato Si), and most recently, “Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia). Through his life and person, Pope Francis has been able to win people over to the Lord–most remarkably even among lapsed and disenchanted Catholics.
But aside from becoming fishers of people like Peter and company, we are also called to be Pauline. Paul, we know, was a tent maker by occupation–something he never gave up even when he worked as a missionary.
Just like fishing, tent-making can be a significant metaphor for us Christians, especially in light of John’s beautiful prologue, where according to the original Greek, the opening hymn goes: “And the Word was made flesh and pitched His tent among us.”
Now that Jesus has gone to the Father, it’s our turn to pitch his tent! This has now become our task so that his hidden presence–which is the preferred mode of presence of the post-Easter and post-Ascension Christ–is disclosed and recognized. If the Lord is by nature so hidden, his presence so subtle that it is not always or immediately detected, then our job is to shine a light on His hiding places–to pitch his tents in every conceivable place so that his dwelling there may be made visible, even if only for a moment.
It’s an essential task, but not an easy one. It’s easy to pitch a tent for the Lord where the ground is solid and the inhabitants there are only too eager to welcome Him. It’s much harder to do that where the ground is shifting sand–or even quicksand!–and where people are not willing to make room for His presence. But it is to these very people and these very places that the Lord sends us to. This is the best thing we can do as we stand between his last goodbye and his next hello: To pitch the tent for the Word and be Christlike when it is most difficult, most unpleasant, even painful.
So a final question for us today: Where am I called to pitch a tent for Jesus, where his presence most needs to be revealed?
May the Lord give us the grace to pitch His tents where they are needed the most.