An uncomfortable comfort: A reflection on this week’s gospel – The Ascension (Matt 28:16-20)

(Another introductory note: Clearly I had last week incorrect. What I believe occurred is that last week there was an alternate Gospel; the one on which I reflected. If there was confusion I apologize.)

 

I recently attained a First Aid accreditation certificate as required by my employer. The day long course was filled with bandaging, dressing, splinting, treating, wrapping, resuscitating, and applying all sorts of things in all sorts of situations. I hope I am never in a position where I am required to recall my training, both for the victim and for me (I have this tendency of temporary memory loss in times of pressure. Thankfully it’s counteracted by my coolheadedness, but I digress).

The one take home point was that it was not obligatory for me to help in such situations, but if I did it is obligatory for me to stay until the victim recovers, more help comes or I can give no more. With such a demand I don’t know whether I would stop to help or not. This lack of confidence and resourcefulness adds to my discomfort. Like I said, I hope I am not put in this situation. Would I overcome these fears and do what I can to help others in such desperate cases? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s easy to find excuses not to.

The final words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, often referred to as the Great Commission, is the Gospel for this week’s Sunday, at least for those who are celebrating the Ascension. This passage is thought of, though not explicitly expressed, as the words Jesus said immediately before his Ascension which we celebrate this week either Thursday or Sunday.

The first thing that comes to mind when reading this is that Jesus had arranged for them to meet at a given place but that place isn’t listed: Galilee is given but not the specific location. At a time when people and places had specific names which become clues about the person or place here it is noticeably silent in the matter. Yet the fact that they are only there because Jesus told them to be there is not lost in this detail.

With such intentional vagueness comes an easy path to modern application. It could easily be somewhere up the road to where Jesus calls us. The point is still the same: that they only go because Jesus says. While under instruction we are not obliged to go.

Those that choose to go meet Jesus are rewarded with divine recognition. Although Jesus these days is recognized as divine in his absence this was not the case for the disciples. Their faithful witness of Jesus’ resurrection then testifies to us today. They saw him; they bowed down before him, though some hesitated. We still bow down; some still hesitate.

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Whether we be one who bows or one who hesitates Jesus gives to each the same message, the same commission. This message hits home and brings forth a new reality. Like a bolt of lightning they are suddenly thrust into a situation that demands more from them. Through the authority of Jesus they are commanded to go forth into the world and teach what they have been taught and obey as they have obeyed. Warmth and comfort proceed the shock: I will be with you until the end of time.

The apostles are largely passive through this episode, though they go from one place to the next, but so much is demanded of them. They have been training for this by their life with Jesus. Though they willing chose Jesus they have not sought out this mission, it was thrust upon them. (Hello, Shakespeare.) But they are turned into men of action and discomfort. Knowing that Jesus will be with them until the end of the age (the end of time) is a comfort, but an uncomfortable comfort: the world will violently hate them, their faith will be shaken, their lives will be taken… and so on. But, hey, this is a great message and we should tell everyone and baptize them. This is what life is though; being uncomfortable for the comfort and benefit of others. Eternal life awaits them after all; a very real hope, a very real driving force into breaking beyond the comfort zone of apathy which is fueled by the Spirit which Jesus leaves.

I don’t know if I could do what I have been trained for. I could apply what I have learnt, but would it be enough? How would I cope if my actions not only failed to help them but made the situation worse? I could find myself in a situation like this at any time, even somewhere up the road. Even then I am not obliged to go. Would I hesitate? Would I go? Would I bow down to help them? Could I cope with the responsibilty when thrust into this situation? Can I become a man of action through discomfort?

In applying First Aid, I don’t know. In faithfully following the call of Jesus…

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