Solemnity of the Ascension (B)
May 20, 2012
The first entry of the Lord to the city of Jerusalem during Palm Sunday was no less than triumphant, no doubt. They did all they could, and used whatever was handy, and within arms’ length to give him a welcome fit for a king … cloaks, branches, palm fronds, whatever!
The people were enlightened, sort of! Or were they?
History teaches us a whole lot of lessons. One of them is the need for us to be prudent and suspend judgment at least until the dust has settled and the bigger picture has come out in bold relief. Hitler started out as salvation in progress, a charismatic leader who was expected to lead Germany out of obscurity and relative powerlessness, by any standard … economic, political, etc. But so was Mussolini! Hordes of young Italians rallied behind him! I am sure Alexander the Great had his moment of jubilation for a time, as he marched home bringing the spoils of war, to shouts of victory and adulation of the ecstatic crowds!
Those people sure were enlightened in some way? Or were they?
Generalissimo Franco of Spain was no different. He came in as savior. He was enthroned as reformer. And whilst a great part of Spain hated him, a great part, too, adored him. Who are we now to say who among those two groups, divided right smack at the middle, was enlightened?
Both groups, I should say, were enlightened … sort of!
Today, the celebration in the Liturgy, I would like to believe, has to do with getting the bigger picture. Let me explain why …
The people of Jerusalem did well in welcoming the Lord with the spirit of triumph and exaltation. Their perceived military leader has come, after all. Their expected savior has come in, someone who would be expected to give it to the Roman conquerors and dictators!
Were they enlightened? Sure, but enlightened not in the way the readings would eventually have us understand. Did they see hope in Jesus? Sure! Did they see in him someone who would do as they thought he had promised? As they thought Scripture in general had promised? Yes …
We mortals are all in the same boat all the time. We were suffering more than two decades ago. We thought we needed a change. We asked for it, and we got it. And we placed all our eggs in one basket. We changed our constitutions and replaced our leaders. We rallied behind a war-cry that says “di na ko papayag mawala ka muli; di na ko papayag na muling mabawi …” Never again, we said. Never again, we promised. Were we enlightened? Sort of? Maybe! Yes, truly. Yes, but partially? Yes, but …
So what is our answer? Cautious? Tentative? Definitive?
The people in Jerusalem were very definite when Jesus came in triumph. In fact, they cried, “hosanna to the Son of David!” But they did have a big problem a few days later. Their hosannas were replaced by condemnation, by the cry for crucifixion!
They saw worse, not better. They heard the promises alright, but not the right kind of promises that the Lord uttered. They saw only one side of the picture, not the total picture. They understood the Scriptures, or at least the part they wanted to understand, and missed the others they did not want to hear.
Today, among many other things, is a reality check. For us. For the world. For everybody. In the first reading from the Acts, after the Risen Lord had shown himself repeatedly, sadly, there were still those who misread his cues and asked the 64 dollar question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
They probably were learned, but not necessarily enlightened. They probably knew Scripture, but they did not understand prophecy. They held on to a promise, but stopped short of believing in its fulfillment.
Today, we recall the triumphant entry to Jerusalem and the enlightenment it brings us. They were honest in their rejoicing, and they were equally sincere in their condemnation. We would like to believe we are on the way to genuine enlightenment. We hold on to the prayer of Paul as he wrote the Ephesians: “May God 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; what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”
We now see the bigger picture. Today the Lord makes his entry to the new and heavenly Jerusalem. Yes, he has come and gone physically from our sight to restore the kingdom. He has come to make this kingdom come real and come true for us who believe.
But I am not about to stop here. What does this enlightenment lead us to?
It leads to a duty. It leads to a mission. It leads to a movement. It leads to a task … “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
We still have a long way to go. Just look at how divided we are as a people Just look at how each side of two warring camps quote truth and justice, with both sides seeing only a portion of the bigger picture. Just see how fanatical we all could be defending our positions. And just look at how we can (to borrow Kahlil Gibran’s words), build a wall by destroying a fence on the other side.
The Lord is risen! True that! The Lord ascended into heaven. True, too. But what may need a little more enlightenment is us who may still be staring up into space, piously looking at what Jesus did, instead of asking ourselves, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
Go. Teach. Preach. Proclaim. Not here. Not there. To the whole world!