Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF
Claretian Publications, Macau
ASCENSION OF THE LORD – YEAR A
Matthew places the encounter with the Risen Lord not in Jerusalem but in Galilee. The evangelist wants to say that the mission of the Apostles begins where their Master had begun.
Galilee was a despised region. It was inhabited by diverse populations, derived from a mixture of races. It is exactly to these semi-pagans—Matthew wants to say—that the gospel is now destined. Jerusalem, the city that rejected the Messiah of God, lost her privilege to be the spiritual center of Israel.
Matthew places Jesus on a mount every time He teaches or performs some particularly important acts because the mountain reminds us of God’s presence where He gives his commandments and mandate. Now, on the mountain, the disciples who have experienced the Risen Lord and assimilated His message are empowered to complete the Lord’s mission.
The remark “although some apostles doubted” (v. 17) is confusing. How could they still have doubts if they had already met the Risen Lord in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday? From the point of view of catechesis, this detail is indicative. For Matthew, the Christian community is not made up of perfect people, but of people in whom good and evil, light and darkness continue to be present. We encounter this situation among the first disciples: they have faith, but they still have doubts and uncertainties.
It is possible to believe in Christ and have doubts. Faith cannot exist together with evidence. One cannot “believe” that the sun exists; there is the certainty, one can see it. The effects of its light and its heat are scientifically verifiable. In the field of faith, this evidence is impossible. Like the apostles, we, too, have a deep conviction of the truth of the Resurrection of Christ, but it cannot be proven.
The second part of the passage narrates the sending of the apostles to evangelize the whole world. During his public life, Jesus had sent them to announce the kingdom of heaven with these instructions: “Do not visit pagan territory, and do not enter a Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the people of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). After Easter, their mission expands; it becomes universal.
The light was enkindled in Galilee when Jesus, having left Nazareth, settled in Capernaum. “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in the land of the shadow of death a light has shone” (Mt 4:16). Now its light must shine in the whole world. As the prophets have announced, Israel becomes the “light of the nations” (Is 42:6).
The time is decisive and Jesus refers to his authority: he was sent by the Father to bring the message of salvation; now He entrusts this task to the community of the disciples, giving them His own powers.
The Church is called to make Christ present in the world. Through Baptism, she generates new children that are inserted in the communion of the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Spirit. It is a sublime but difficult mission; it inspires awe and trepidation in those who are called to carry it out.
Abridged from Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ