The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Then Jesus approached and said to them,
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
We all have our reasons.
Those eleven disciples did. The followers who were willing to forgo everything, including their very lives… did. They had their reasons. I have my reasons. And I suspect you do too.
Reasons for being here right now. For returning to our gathered worship places as soon as we are able. For craving the Eucharist and for wanting to hear the Word of God proclaimed inside our beautiful church buildings. Reasons for seeking, for searching. Reasons for hope. For believing in the light. And for being willing to accept that there is a bigger picture, one beyond our line of sight, that there’s more to the story up ahead, further than we can now see. That death is not an end, it is a progression forward. Reasons for trying hard when the chips are down, when we are laid low, and for considering our own pain to have worth. Reasons for holding on through suffering. Suffering loneliness and worry. Disappointment and loss. And suffering when someone we love is suffering, which may be the worst kind of all. We all have our reasons.
I have three. Three specific, clear and, to me, inarguable reasons. They are: (1) Jesus is who he said he is, (2) Jesus started a church and (3) Jesus is not indifferent about his creation. On this last point, his is far from indifferent. He is like the parent who experiences the suffering of a child. And as I said, this may be the worst kind of suffering there is.
Three reasons: (1) Jesus is who he says he is, (2) Jesus started a church and (3) Jesus is far from indifferent about us.
In this Gospel, which marks the Ascension of the Lord, that is, the final exit of Jesus here on Earth in front of his eleven remaining disciples, we have much to consider. When I heard this Gospel reading, I used to focus on the fact that these were his very last words, his final summation, his closing argument. This was what he most wanted the disciples to remember.
Then, later on, I used to focus on the notion that even though he is leaving, he is saying that he is remaining. Jesus remains. And although for his closest friends, this was farewell, Jesus had a way of saying that there are no goodbyes here. He said, quite powerfully: “I am with you always.”
But there is an expectation laid down here too… and which is connected to that powerful promise. Jesus is asking his Church to go and to spread the word, to make more disciples, to bring light to darkness by doing hard things like sacrificing and serving and forgiving and loving enemies. And maybe even laying down their lives. Which many of them did. They had their reasons.
This closing argument is offered to not only those eleven but to us as well. We need to do the same. This is our calling. The simple word we use to describe this is evangelization.
Churches are opening up again soon. Hopefully, they will stay open. What we’re all going through has changed us, in obvious ways and, I would imagine, some subtle ways as well. I wonder if it has helped us to hear that call more clearly. Whether within the silence of solitude and social distancing, might the expectation that Jesus spoke to his disciples be louder to us somehow.
I have heard many reasons for our not evangelizing. Do any of these sound familiar?
I’m not smart enough.
I’m not educated about the faith.
I am too busy.
It’s not my strength.
I don’t do well with confrontation.
It doesn’t mix with the other parts of my life.
Fr. Mike Schmitz, who you may recognize as he has a huge internet following, states that the primary reason we don’t evangelize is vanity. I was surprised when I heard him say this as my initial thought was that vanity means an overly elevated sense of self. But he describes vanity as an overly elevated concern about what others think of us. That’s vanity and it prevents us from evangelizing because we come to care too much about what others think. The remedy, according to Fr. Mike, is to spend less time concerned about what others think of us and more time concerned about what God thinks of us.
So, as we hopefully move forward in the coming days and weeks, I wonder whether we will… evangelize. Whether we can rise up out of any fears we have and proceed to share with others what our reasons are. We all have our reasons. And we don’t have to beat people over the head with them, or argue them convincingly, or even state them eloquently. We just have to share them.
We just have to share our reasons.
I have three of them and in the Gospel reading of the Ascension of the Lord, Jesus states: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” which I translate into: (1) Jesus is who he said he is.
In this Gospel, Jesus states: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” which I translate into: (2) Jesus started a church.
And in this same Gospel, Jesus finished with: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” In other words: (3) Jesus is not indifferent about us. In fact, he loves us. He suffered for us. He suffers for us. He will always be with us.
So, who really cares what anyone else thinks? We should care more about what God thinks. Let’s be disciples. Let’s show them what we got.
I have my reasons. And I suspect you do too.