Leaving

Most of us experience a leaving of some kind in our lives whether it be from a job, a relationship, a friendship or a geographical area.  One of the first leavings we do is going off to school.  The separation of sending a small child off to preschool or kindergarten can be difficult on the child causing him/her to cry.  But the parent knows the separation is important so that the child can grow in knowledge and social relationships.  That dynamic can be flipped when the child to goes off to college, causing the parent to cry.

There are no tears flowing in today’s first reading which gives an account of the Ascension, but the dynamics of leaving are still there.  Jesus’ leaving is hard on the Apostles who still do not fully understand what type of Messiah he is.  They ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1: 6).  They still believe he will lead a military campaign.  The gospel tells us “They worshipped, but they doubted.”  (Mt. 28: 17), which indicates a lack of depth in the Apostles’ faith in who Jesus is.

It is necessary for Jesus to leave for two reasons.  The first reason is so that the Apostles might, in the absence of his physical presence, come to know and understand his mission and true meaning of his Messiahship.  The second, deeper reason is so that he can give himself more fully to them.  It is true that he poured himself out completely in embracing his fate on the cross.  But the fullness of that sacrifice cannot be understood by his followers until he goes away.  In going away, he can be more fully, more deeply present to them, because his absence makes room for them to reflect back on the meaning of his words and actions, a reflection that cannot be done in his physical presence.  It is in that separation that an understanding of the gospel message can come to them so that they may “go make disciples of all nations.”

The paradoxical mystery of his Ascension induced absence, is that he is more fully present to his Apostles and to us in his absence through the power of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.  May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call” (Eph. 1: 17-18).  It is only when we invite in the Spirit of God’s wisdom that we understand the Gospel message and are able to join the Apostles in making disciples of all nations.