Tag Archives: Ascension

A curious detail about Matthew’s Ascension gospel

May 22, 2020

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The Ascension is entirely absent in Matthew’s gospel. All of the details of the other accounts (Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51; Acts 1:9) receive no mention. There is no cloud, no lifting up, no vanishing from their sight, and no enthronement of Jesus at God’s right hand. This oddity is no oversight. It is not an error or a mistake.

Matthew did not leave out the Ascension because he did not know about it. He was there with the other apostles when it took place. Matthew used the gospel of Mark as a resource when he wrote his own gospel, and Mark specifically mentioned the Ascension in his conclusion (Mk 16:19). This glaring omission is intentional, something Matthew did with a purpose in mind.

Matthew’s gospel ends with the Great Commissioning. Jesus sent the Eleven to do three specific things: to make disciples of all nations, to baptize new believers, and to teach people to observe all that he had commanded.

From the time that Jesus delivered his commissioning until the time that Matthew composed his gospel, over fifty years had elapsed. Matthew could look back and see the enormous hardship associated with these three orders. The disciples were supposed to reach out to all nations, except this would involve traveling, and traveling was dangerous. By land, there were long walks over difficult terrain. They were exposed to sun, wind, and rain. Sometimes there was searing heat, other times chilling cold. They were vulnerable to thieves and bandits. They had to deal with hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Nighttime accommodations were unfamiliar and often inadequate. By sea, there were storms, pirates, and shipwrecks.

Once the disciples arrived at their destination, they were supposed to make disciples, except this, too, was an extremely formidable task. The disciples needed to learn the local language and customs. They were foreigners and faced fierce resistance from the townsfolk who were tightly knit and usually excluded outsiders. The local residents had their own religious beliefs which they held strongly, and many were unwilling to consider a change.

The disciples were supposed to baptize new believers. These baptisms posed a serious problem. Some converted and were baptized, others did not. When one person in a family accepted baptism, the other family members who refused to convert often became enraged, not only at the family member who was baptized and had abandoned their family’s religious tradition, but also at the person who performed the baptism. The disciples were persecuted for performing baptisms, and in a number of cases it led to torture and martyrdom.

Finally, the disciples were supposed to teach the people to observe all that Jesus commanded. The gospel was an entirely new concept that was welcomed by some but bitterly opposed by others. Often the disciples were ridiculed for their teaching. Many days their audiences were small and their results meager. Their mission to preach the gospel could be very discouraging.

For Matthew, the last thing he wanted was for Jesus to ascend and be far removed from his disciples. As they were about to undertake their commission, they needed Jesus to be their daily companion, their guide and helper, and a constant source of strength and courage. So instead of the absence of Jesus associated with the Ascension, Matthew chose to highlight Jesus’ promise to remain with his disciples always. The last word of his gospel is “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20): now, wherever we are, wherever we go, whatever we do, Jesus is always present, never to leave, at our side for all our days.

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The Ascension

May 31, 2019

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The Seventh Sunday of Easter is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, how the Father lifted the Son from the earth after the Resurrection, bought him back to heaven, and enthroned him in glory and power at his right hand (Mk 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55,56; Eph 1:20). The Ascension is a major mystery of our Christian faith, so important that it is the second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary.

AscensionAscension is relatively rare in Scripture. In fact, only two ascensions are reported directly, Elijah in the Old Testament (2 Kgs 2:11) and Jesus in the New Testament (Mk 16:19; Lk 24:51; Acts 1:9). Elijah’s Ascension was very dramatic. While he was conversing with his successor, Elisha the prophet, “a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9). While there is no biblical account, our Tradition also holds that Mary was assumed into heaven.

The Ascension completed the glorification that the Father began when he raised Jesus from the dead. God did what human beings failed to do. After Jesus suffered his Passion, no one said thank you. After Jesus laid down his life on the Cross for our salvation, no one offered praise. So God “greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9), placed him “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion” (Eph 1:21), and “put all things beneath his feet and gave him as head over all things” (Eph 1:22). Thus, Jesus was enthroned as king of heaven and earth.

Many great things were accomplished through the Ascension. It confirmed Jesus’ identity as the Son of God and further underscored his divinity. The heavenly throne gives Jesus global and universal authority, and serves as the proper place for him to receive our praise and adoration which he so rightfully deserves. The disciples were present to witness the Ascension so their faith, which was still faltering, might be strengthened. It paved the way to heaven: where Jesus has gone we may follow. With the Ascension Jesus is no longer physically confined to a particular time or place so he might be spiritually present to all people at all times in all places. His departure set the stage for him to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. It also officially ended his earthly ministry of preaching and healing, a mission that he transferred to his disciples.

Jesus is eternally present at the right hand of God where he intercedes for us (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1 Jn 2:1). Jesus has his Father’s ear and his favor. Jesus knows what we need and speaks on our behalf. He is our Advocate. He pleads our cause. He makes intercession for us, so that God will bless us with everything that we need in this life and grant us a share in his eternal glory in the life to come.

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