It is only in the Acts of the Apostles that we get this vivid image of an Ascension scene, although Luke’s Gospel ends with an image of Jesus being taken up into heaven. What we do find in common at the end of the synoptic gospels and the beginning of Acts is the commission to witness to Jesus. It is only in Acts that we get the idea that Jesus appeared to the disciple for forty days after he had suffered. Luke is not here stating an historical fact, but possibly using the number 40 in a symbolic way. Forty days was considered a norm for a disciple to learn and master the teachings of a rabbi. Thus, there is an unwritten claim here that the disciples’ teaching is authentic because they have received the normative instruction.
However, this group does not appear so ready. Anyone who has taught can read the readiness of a group. When my oldest nephew was 4 or 5 and struggling in the “buntus cainte” class (Irish language lessons), he blurted out in English, “I went to the spring show yesterday and I saw a combine harvester.” Way out of focus and way off the point, and just enough to frustrate any teacher.
Combine harvesters were not on the disciples’ minds, but what interested them had their attention. As Jesus spoke about waiting in Jerusalem for the promise of God, they blurted out their question, “Are you going to restore at this time the kingdom to Israel?” Way out of focus and way off the point. Jesus gently reminds them that this was not really their concern, but that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
To our way of thinking, that seems a little naïve, unreal, impractical and even crazy. That’s like putting all the poor spellers into the Spelling Bee competition. Couldn’t Jesus see that they were not ready? Yes, indeed, Jesus did see that they weren’t ready, but Jesus trusted the power of the Spirit. We can read in Luke’s Gospel the number of times it is stated that Jesus was led or did something in the power of the Spirit. Jesus knew the power of the Spirit, the Spirit that hovered over the waters bringing new life out of chaos. So Jesus had no doubt that same Spirit who had led him would likewise lead the disciples and teach them everything they needed to know. He had no doubt that in the power of the Spirit they would indeed be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
When we list the attributes of a follower of Jesus, I don’t think I’ve heard a mention of total trust in the power of the Spirit. Perhaps this should top the list of such attributes. For it was the Spirit who led Jesus to do all that he did. He trusts the Spirit to lead us too, and to teach us everything we need to be his witnesses. Do we trust the Spirit like that? Often when we gather we tend to say a prayer to the Holy Spirit and then get down to business according to our plans and agendas.
Let’s re-imagine our lives as Jesus’ disciples with total trust in the power of the Spirit of God.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP