Would it be better if the Ascension never happened?
Mark 16:15-20 (Ascension, year B)
“The time has come for you to start building houses on your own.” This was the last instruction that a young carpenter in training received from his mentor, a master carpenter. These words terrified the young man. For years he had apprenticed alongside the master carpenter, learning from him. His mentor was always there to check his work and answer any question he had about the trade. The young carpenter felt safe working with him. He would have loved to continue working under his mentor for the rest of his career. He felt angry that the master carpenter would no longer allow him to simply assist him, but was forcing him to take full, personal responsibility for projects.
Hesitantly, the young carpenter began building houses on his own. At first it was very difficult. He was unsure of himself. As he progressed through his work day, the young man encountered many challenges and questions he wished he could discuss with his old mentor. This, however, was no longer possible. The master carpenter was always at some other job. The young carpenter was forced to figure things out for himself. He experimented, took risks and showed initiative. He made mistakes, but he found as time went on he was learning and becoming a better carpenter. His skills developed in a new way that would not have been possible had he simply continued assisting his old mentor. Eventually he saw the wisdom of the master carpenter. Had his mentor not forced him to build houses on his own, his growth would have been stunted. Being left on his own was necessary for the young man to develop his full potential as a carpenter. Years passed. The young man became a master carpenter himself and began apprenticing others. Whenever he saw that a young carpenter in training had learned all he or she could from him he would say: “the time has come for you to start building houses on your own”.
Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As we heard in the Gospel, at the Ascension Jesus gave us a mission and then left us on our to take the personal responsibility to do it. Understandable, when we think about the Ascension of Jesus we can feel like that young carpenter did when his mentor left him to work on His own.
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, didn’t ask us to build a house, but a kingdom, the Kingdom of God. He gave us a clear mission: go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. We are called to tell everyone the Good News about the love of God made manifest in Jesus who has died to save us. We are called to lead others into a relationship with Jesus. We are called to build up the Kingdom of God by transforming the world so that it is more guided by the values of Christ like love, mercy and humility.
Jesus gave us this mission and then He left us. Here is a question that comes into my mind when I consider the Ascension: would it not have been better for us if Jesus had stayed on earth? It is hard to understand why Jesus had to return to His Father. Imagine if Jesus were still with us as He was after the Resurrection and we could still see Him face to face and speak with Him. Whenever we faced a challenge, either in our personal life or as a community, we could simply call up Jesus in Jerusalem, Rome or wherever He happened to be and He could tell us what to do. What should we do today to ensure the poor are taken care of and no one is hungry? If Jesus had not ascended we could just set up a meeting and He could answer that. Want to know how to obtain lasting peace in the Middle East? You would simply need to get Jesus on the phone. How can we properly care for the environment? Get Jesus on Skype and He’d have a solution. At times we can think it would have been better had the Ascension never happened.
Jesus, however, clearly tells us that it is for our own good that He ascends and leaves us (John 16:7). The young carpenter would never have developed into a master carpenter if his mentor was always around him, answering all his questions and preventing him from making any mistakes. The young carpenter had to take full responsibility for projects of his own before He could develop into a master carpenter. Jesus wants us to become become mature in our faith, developing our full potential as His followers. He wants us to become master Christians and not remain apprentices. We will make mistakes, but if we are to become an adult follower of Jesus we need to take responsibility for building up the Kingdom on our own.
When He ascends into Heaven, Jesus leaves us on our own and yet He doesn’t really leave us on our own. The mission of building up the Kingdom of God is at the same time fully our responsibility and a project which God is in full control of. Here is where comparing us Christians to the young carpenter breaks down. In order for him to grow the young carpenter had to take full responsibility for building houses. The work had to be his alone. For this to happen, the master carpenter had to remove himself from the scene completely. Jesus, however, is not bound by this human limitation. The gift of the Holy Spirit is how Jesus leaves us on our own and yet doesn’t really leave us on our own. Pentecost follows the Ascension.The Holy Spirit is a gentle, guiding, strengthening influence in our life. The Holy Spirit allows us to take full responsibility for the mission Jesus has given. At the same time, the Holy Spirit is fully in control, supporting us, keeping us united and giving efficacy to our actions. The Holy Spirit makes the mission fully our work and fully God’s. In completing Jesus’ mission “work like everything depends on you and pray like everything depends on God” (Mother Teresa).
“The time has come for you to start building houses on your own.” . The young carpenter not only listened to these words of his mentor but acted on them. For this reason he grew as a carpenter. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”. Today we have once again listened to these words of Jesus. If we act on these words we will grow as His disciple. If we do not, we will never mature. Have you taken personal responsibility for building the Kingdom of God?