Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (A)
In a court of law, a person cannot give a testimony on what he thinks; he cannot give his testimony on just what he heard. To be believable, he has to know for sure what he has to say; he has to have some firsthand evidence.
When Jesus told His disciples, “you will be my witnesses…. to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:1-8) He meant just that. They had firsthand experience of his life, His presence, His works and His Resurrection, and all who would believe in Him and obey His commandments would also have firsthand experience of His presence. How? He promised to send His Holy Spirit: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). This experience is also received by the faithful in the Church, in prayer in solitude and in community, in the Church’s teachings, in the Scriptures and Tradition, and their involvement in the activities of the Church and society, for “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).
What are some characteristics of a witness?
First, he is a man who says “I know this is true.” A Christian cannot just say he thinks his religion is the best. He has to experience Jesus in prayer, in the Scriptures, in His commandments, in the sacraments, in the ministries of the Church and in relationship with others.
Second, a real witness is a man of good deeds. St. Paul describes this very clearly: “if I have the faith that can move mountains but have no love,” (1Cor 13:2) in other words, no deeds, “I am like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1Cor 13:1). In the same context, St. James says that if you say you love God, but hate your brother, you are a liar. A person’s faith, hope and love for God cannot be based solely on what he thinks, but on what he does, because faith without works is dead.
Third, in Greek, witness means martyr. A real witness to Jesus is loyal no matter what the cost may be. This has been proven by many witnesses and martyrs before us, even people we know; and they have been rewarded here on earth and in the second life. They did not give up their faith and hope in the face of difficulties and doubts. They persevered.
Thus Jesus impressed on the disciples and on the world the following:
1. He commissioned his disciples. He sent them with a mission to be His tender voice, His loving hands and heart, and His untiring feet. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28: 19-20).
2. He promised to be always with them. “He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4)” and would always be with them until the end of the age (Mt 28:20).
3. He empowered them. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…. to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The power that they would receive was a power that no man or any human institution on earth could give. It would be the power of God.
We read from the Acts of the Apostles, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1:11)? The power is not up in the sky. It is in our hearts, in our responsibilities, in our relationships, in our work towards peace and unity, in our effort to save and improve the environment, in our endeavor towards reconciliation, in our effort for the full development of persons, in safeguarding life from conception to natural death, and most especially in being rooted in Jesus.
When we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we do not just pray as if the kingdom is yet to come from somewhere. We pray that we can be faithful servants and instruments of the King and the Kingdom, so that the peace and love that our King wants us to experience may reign here on earth as in heaven.
By the fact of Baptism, it is then our duty to go and make disciples of all nations, starting in our families, in our work and in our relationships, and to teach them all that Jesus has taught us through the Holy Spirit, so as to render to God, from whom all authority comes, all the power and the glory due to Him. Let us not take this power and glory for ourselves, so that at the end of a good day’s work, we can sincerely proclaim that we are mere servants and children of the Father.