Today's readings are for all those among us who have come to realise that they are not in control.
This may seem a rather banal comment to make but it constantly surprises me how the older I get the more I realise, each time at a deeper level, my utter powerlessness to direct the unfolding circumstances of my own life, let alone those of others. More and more I feel like the Apostles in the first reading, a mere onlooker to the unfolding plan of God.
As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on...
Actually, the first reading is notable for its emphasis on the passivity and helplessness, and even ignorance, of the Apostles. It is as though all God required of them was that they watch attentively and take careful note of all that Jesus said and did. This seems to have been the main qualifications of a true Apostle. We see this clearly later on in this same chapter when they set about choosing a replacement for Judas. St Peter says: We must therefore choose someone who has been with us the whole time that the Lord Jesus was travelling round with us, someone who was with us right from the time when John was baptising until the day when he was taken up from us - and he can act with us as a witness to his resurrection.
Before we look at the language of the first reading more closely we note also that the Apostles have nothing which they have not received. This truth became starkly apparent to me as a hospital chaplain. The doctors and nurses cared for their patients with all sorts of treatments which needed great skill and expertise. They inserted cannulas, injected medicines, performed procedures of all kinds.
I, on the other hand had nothing of my own to give except what I had been given. I anointed with the Church's oils and said the words the Church gave me to say; I absolved with the Church's powerful words of absolution to forgive sin. There was nothing of my own that I could give. Not even the Good News I preached was my own. And this is true of every priest. And yet, as St Paul says: Taken for paupers ... we make others rich. (2 Cor 6:10)
Ponder all this in the following phrases from the first reading; what do they tell you?
- Jesus had done and taught
- he gave his instructions to the apostles
- he had shown himself alive to them
- he had continued to appear to them
- he had told them not to leave Jerusalem
- but to wait there
- you ... will be baptised with the Holy Spirit
- It is not for you to know times or dates
- but you will receive power
- when the Holy Spirit comes on you
- and then you will be my witnesses
- he was lifted up while they looked on
- and a cloud took him from their sight.
- staring into the sky
- two men in white were standing near them
- why are you men ... standing here looking into the sky?
- Jesus ... been taken up from you.
- he will come back
Do you see? It's all the work of the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit! The Apostles just stand there looking, staring, waiting and this is precisely what God asks of them. It is only when they receive power from on high that they become something - witnesses - to all they have seen and heard and received. Do you see? It's all God's work and, consequently, you are all God's work.
Just as with the Apostles, the Father completes his work in us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who gives us power to become all that we can be, all that we should be. In spiritual terms this means becoming witnesses to Christ in the lives we lead and the words we speak.
So if you are feeling powerless, out of control, hopeless, don't despair and don't try to play Mr Fixit. Stay put and wait (in prayer, of course), and 'you will receive power'.
Be patient, do what you can, pray - without giving up.