May 12, 2013 –– The Ascension of the Lord
There is something brilliantly appropriate about the readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in that they begin with the first verse and first words of the Acts of the Apostles, and they conclude with the final words of the Gospel of Luke.
What makes the above statement even more convincing is the fact that most scholars agree that it was Luke who was also the author of Acts. Thus, the statement which opens the first reading, “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up…” becomes even more connected to the conclusion of today’s Gospel: “As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”
Nonetheless, it is worth examining each of today’s key readings as they relate to Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. It would seem scholars have had enjoyment with the first statement from Acts, which is addressed to Theophilus. Who might this Theophilus be? Deep-thinking intellectuals have established with credibility that Theophilus is everything from a wealthy philanthropist who funded Luke’s education as a doctor, to a relative of the Roman Emperor. Theophilus means, in Greek, “friend of God.” It is probably more likely that Luke is addressing this to each of us, each practicing Christian, all of whom are surely “friends of God.”
In the second reading, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about what positions Jesus Christ assumed once He ascended. There is an important stewardship message in this reading when Paul states, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened.” Stewards look beyond; stewards see with more than some intellectual appraisal. Paul’s appeal to us is that we know and understand that our relationship with the Lord is much deeper than a meeting of minds — it is a meeting and merging of spirits. It is something found in the depths of our souls. Paul’s hope is that in the very deepest recesses of our hearts we will come to know, to appreciate, and to love God, and to understand that God’s love for us is equally profound and unlimited.
Many who speak and write about stewardship as a way of life include lay witness as an important characteristic for parishes seeking to be stewardship parishes. There are two references to “witness” in today’s readings. The first reading quotes the Lord as saying “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” Wherever you may live you can rest assured you live within those limits. You can also be certain that even though Jesus was giving this charge to the Apostles, He was also giving it to us. As stewards, wherever we are, we are expected to witness to our faith.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells them again, just prior to His Ascension, “You are witnesses of these things.” Witnessing has not changed since that time. In truth, to be a witness to our faith is more than talking about it though. Truly witnessing to our faith in Jesus is living as stewards. How we live and how we love in His name says more than any words can. As St. Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel every day. If necessary, use words.”