WHERE EXACTLY DID JESUS’ ASCENSION TAKE PLACE? -13 May 2018 – Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11, Eph 4:1-13, Mk 16:15-20

Edmond Lo

According to today’s Gospel, Mark, it was in Galilee (Mk 16:7). Matthew also located the event in Galilee (Mt. 28:7, 16). Luke? Contrary to the Marcan and Matthean accounts, he put it in Jerusalem (Lk 24:50-52).

So, who are we supposed to believe? If this is not a factual error, what is it? Somebody – either Luke, or Mark and Matthew – must be wrong. Right? How do we explain this apparent contradiction? The Church insists that the books of Scripture are without error (Dei Verbum 11). How can the Church still teach scriptural inerrancy?

There is no denying that the Bible contains history since “biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history” (Verbum Domini 42). But the Bible is not a history book. As a result, its texts must be understood “in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective” (VD, 42). In other words, we must find out what it was that the sacred writer intended to say in presenting a certain historical situation.

In the case of Luke, his intention was not to teach us history. Pinpointing the historical location of the Ascension was not his intention in writing the Ascension story.  Most scriptural scholars believe both Luke and Matthew used Mark and Q (a common gospel material long lost) as their common sources. In writing the Ascension story, both authors assumed that the readers already knew from these two sources where it took place. If it actually happened in Galilee, Luke put it in Jerusalem not because he made a mistake but because he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to affirm, from a Christian perspective, the transformation of the Jerusalem Temple.

The historical-literary technique used by Luke to communicate this affirmation was to begin his gospel account in the setting of the Jerusalem Temple (where Zechariah was offering his priestly service), and have it concluded also in the Jerusalem Temple (disciples returned to Jerusalem praising God in the Temple). But this time, with Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension accomplished, the Lucan description conjures up an image of the Jerusalem Temple that was filled with rejoicing and praising of God, an image that points us to the Heavenly Temple of Jerusalem – the ultimate and transformed Temple.

A different way of being near

Fr Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau

The ascension of the Lord is the moment of handing over the announcement of the gospel to the disciples. Having concluded his physical presence with the disciples he will be near them, from now on, in a different way.

 It is surprising that the good news should be announced “to every creature.” The expression contains an invitation to contemplate a salvation that extends to the whole universe.  Driven by insatiable covetousness and greed, instead of acting as a gardener and caretaker of the world, people became despots and predators. When they did so, they reintroduced chaos.

The proclamation of the gospel frees man from the conviction of being an absolute master. It makes him realize that he has no right to intervene at will on nature and to cause it to establish a new relationship, not only with others but also with the environment, plants, animals.

 Mark lists five signs through which the Risen Christ manifests his presence: “Those who have believed will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

It is true that the preaching of the gospel is accompanied by even extraordinary signs but these do not constitute evidence. It is a proclamation, a good news. The apostles realized that they were not to compete with magicians and soothsayers, but to bear witness that the risen Lord continued to operate in the world.

The extraordinary signs listed by Mark should be read and interpreted in the light of biblical symbolism. The prophets used these and other images to describe the messianic times and the new world. The demons represent all the forces of death found in man. These demons are not won with the use of exorcism rites, but with the power of the word of Christ and the Spirit he gave us.

The snakes and the poisons are often referred to in the Bible as symbols of the enemies of man and life. The disciples must not be afraid. The strength they received from Christ, in fact, makes them invulnerable, “You see, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the Enemy, so that nothing will harm you” (Lk 10:19).

The concluding sentence of Mark’s Gospel: “The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it” (v. 20) testifies to the belief of the first disciples of not being alone, but always having the Lord Jesus next to them. He worked miracles of salvation with them.

Translated by Fr John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Fr Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF