Life As Jesus' Successors

Ascension Year B

Mark 16: 15 20

Introduction

The ascension sounds the depths of human leave-taking. Jesus has gone home. He has left us and we are saddened. We can console ourselves and rejoice that we have known him...We can, however, rejoice far more in his abiding presence with us in his Spirit, for Jesus is not a mere man. We can rejoice, too, in the assurance that where he is, we, one day, shall also be!

(From the Glenstal Missal, Collins 1984)

Some Notes On The Text

Verse 15

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.

In this verse which opens our reading, Jesus uses a rabbinic expression, "preach the news to all creation", meaning to humanity in general i.e. making the message accessible by all people.

Verse 16

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

In verse 16 baptism is declared necessary for those who have heard the Gospel message and believed. Verse 16 is not a condemnation of those who have had the message preached at them but do not accept it.

A necessary component is the inner hearing. Those who do hear in this way should be baptised to become active participants of Jesus' saving work. It is not the want of baptism that condemns a person, but the contempt of it. The latter part of the verse means that conversion is an offer that has its hour; one should not let it slip by.

Verse 17 and 18

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

This is followed by a stunning promise: signs will accompany belief. Jesus says "In my name they will…". We need to be careful not to miss the key emphasis due to fascination with the signs listed.

The prophets spoke "in the name of the Lord". The Apostles did likewise (Acts 3: 6 etc). But there was an important difference between Jesus and all the other messengers God sent into the world. He acted in his own name; they in the name of another. He wielded his own power; they were instruments, by which God put forth his powerful arm to save. He was therefore God and this is a final affirmation of the fact as the Gospel draws to a close.

The signs which follow were to be a demonstration that the disciples were exercising authority Jesus has given them. All, except the drinking of poison, were witnessed in the scriptures. Of particular significance to Jesus' listeners was the reference to picking up snakes. This was easily recognised in the early Church as the working out of the New Exodus in the time of the messiah. The Lord had worked mighty wonders for his people on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. They believed he would continue to do so in light of Jesus' promise. It was in the view of this that Psalm 91 became the regular night prayer of the infant church, and it has remained so ever since, for many Christians.

Verse 19

After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

This clearly describes the ascension, in language borrowed from the Old Testament. The imagery of the ascent of Elijah (2 Kings 2: 11) is combined with Psalm 110 (verse one). So the early Christian interpretation of the Lord's ascension is clear; it is the triumphal ascent, to be followed by enthronement. Psalm 110 is the great messianic psalm, where Melchizedek's priesthood is promised to the Lord. It is the psalm quoted by Jesus to the authorities when he asked them the difficult question about David's son, who was also David's Lord (Mark 12: 37).

Verse 20

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark's Gospel emphasises the power of Jesus, as well as his servant-hood. Jesus' life and teaching reflect values quite distinct from what is often seen. The common view of power is to control others in order to get your way. But Jesus, with all authority and power in heaven and on earth chose to serve others. He held children in his arms and let them flop all over him as he talked. He healed many who were sick. He washed the feet of his disciples, and died for the forgiveness of the world's sin. Being a disciple of Jesus means succeeding him in his mission of service and it means receiving the same power to serve. We are called, as believers, to be servants of Jesus Christ. As he served, so are we to serve.

Conclusion: Encouragement From The Saints

St Chrysostom

Commenting on Mk 16: 14 — 20, and referring to the faithful follower of Christ, he writes:

"They expel devils when they banish sin which is worse than the devil; they speak new tongues when they converse no longer on vain and sinful things, but on those which are spiritual and heavenly."

St Gregory

Commenting on the same passage he says:

"They take up serpents, when by zealous exhortations they lift others from the shame of vice, without being themselves poisoned; they drink deadly things without being hurt by them, when they hear improper conversation without being corrupted or led to evil; they lay their hands upon the sick and heal them, when they teach the ignorant, strengthen by their good example those who are wavering in virtue, keep the sinner from evil, and similar things."

St Augustine

Teaching us not to give up because of our weakness he says:

"Let us ascend in spirit with Christ, that when His day comes, we may follow with our body. Yet you must know, beloved brethren, that not pride, nor avarice, nor impurity, nor any other vice ascends with Christ; for with the teacher of humility, pride ascends not, nor with the author of goodness, malice, nor with the Son of the Virgin, impurity. Let us then ascend with Him by trampling upon our vices and evil inclinations, thus building a ladder by which we can ascend; for we make a ladder of our sins to heaven when we tread them down in combating them."

Suggestions for Biblical Prayer

  • 2 Kings 2: The Ascension of Elijah.
  • Ezekiel 11: 22 The Glory of God leaving the Temple.
  • Psalms 91: and 110: Great messianic psalms.
  • Zechariah 14: 4 The return of God on the Mount of Olives.
  • Luke 24: 50 — 53 The ascension of Jesus.
  • Acts 2: 14 — 36 The gift of the Spirit.
  • Ephesians 2: 1 — 6 Raised up and seated with Christ.
  • Colossians 3: 1 — 4 Hidden with Christ.

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