“Proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mk 16:15)
World (Good News) Communication Day
As we heard in the first reading of today, Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:3) that Jesus was seen in his risen form for forty days. After those forty days, Jesus was no more seen in his risen body. The feast of today marks this stage of transition in the story of incarnation and resurrection – that Jesus is no more seen in his earthly body. Luke describes this “withdrawal” of Jesus (Lk 24:51) in terms of being “lifted up” (Acts 1:9). And Mark describes it in terms of “being taken up into heaven” (Mk 16:19). Hence, “the ascension” of the Lord!
I would like to focus on the parting message of Jesus to his apostles, as we heard in the gospel reading of today, which is also similar in all the synoptic gospels (Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:15-18; Lk 24:46-49).
Firstly, I would like to ask myself, what is this ‘Good News’ that Jesus had been proclaiming throughout his public ministry (Mt 4:23; Lk 4:18, 7:22), and which, at the end of his earthly life, he commissions his disciples to proclaim. Secondly, I would like to ask, why proclaim the Good News to all creation as Mark (16:15) has it?
What is the Good News?
What is the Good News? (In English, the word, ‘gospel’ is also used instead of ‘good news’. It comes from the Old-English ‘god-spell’, meaning ‘glad tidings’, which is the literal translation of the Greek, ‘euangelion’ and the Latinised, ‘evangelium’.) One easy way of understanding the “good news”, is to consider it as the compendium of the teachings of Jesus. In this sense, the four gospels are the good news! At another level, it is the news about the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. St Paul, probably the first to use the word, ‘euangelion’, means it in this sense (in 1Cor 15:1-8). For him, the Good News is the message that Christ died for us, and was raised to life. In the gospel of Luke, when Jesus sends out his disciples before the ascension, similar to the gospel reading of today, he commissions them to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all nations” (Lk 24:47). Therefore, the Good News includes the aspects of death and resurrection of Jesus which are related to the forgiveness of sins.
Being consistent with the message of Jesus, we know that the good news is not just the written text, nor is it merely the message that is proclaimed, but it is what these words invite us to. It is the person who is at the core of the news: God in Jesus Christ. Therefore it is more appropriate to ask, ‘Who is the Good News’, rather than, ‘what is the good news.’ Yes, Jesus Christ is the Good News. If we want to expand that a little more, we could say that the Jesus invites us to experience the forgiving embrace of God in his person. The Good News is that at a particular time in human history, the love of God was made visible in Jesus of Nazareth. And because of this new message of the Love of the Father-God, Jesus was killed. But the same love of the Father embraced Jesus and raised him from the dead. Today, we are commissioned to respond to this Good News, to live it, and to proclaim it.
Good News to all creation
Now, why is Mark talking about the proclamation of the Good News to all creation (Mk 16:15), while Matthew would only refer to making disciples of “all the nations” (Mt 28:19)?
Based on this theme of proclaiming the Good News to all creation, it may be interesting to develop a theological reflection on the Christian response to the present environmental crisis or climate change. In the history of Christian spirituality, there are very interesting stories of holy men and women who literally lived the Good News together with the whole creation. A typical example is St Francis of Assisi, who, in his simplicity, would befriend all forms of life. And he would sing of the “brother sun” and “sister moon”. Together with this spirituality, I think, there is still something deeper in the invitation to proclaim the Good News to all creation.
First of all, the commissioning of Jesus in the words of Mark, invites us to realize that we are embodied. We are part of creation. We experience the love of God in our embodied nature. Underlying our own experience of salvation, there lies the task of integrating our whole self – body, mind and spirit.
Secondly, the proclamation of the Good News to all creation, reminds us of what St Paul talks about in his letter to the Romans (8:19-24) that the whole creation is waiting and groaning. There is a movement in creation towards perfection in God. This perfection has been personified in Jesus, because in Jesus of Nazareth, the Creator God became part of creation. In Jesus, we see what we will really be. In Jesus, we see the fulfilment of the purpose of creation. The proclamation of the Good News, therefore, reminds us and the rest of creation of that journey towards perfection, for which we are waiting in hope (Rom 8:24). And as the Book of Revelation promises us, we are journeying towards that time – the Kairos – when all will be made new. Is this not the work of the Spirit of the Risen Lord – whose feast we will celebrate next Sunday: “Look, I am making the whole of creation new” (Rev 21:5)?
In today’s feast the disciples of Jesus, had an opportunity to broaden their idea of life, as they saw Jesus standing on the top of the Mount of Olives, and then ascending into heaven through the clouds. As he ascended, he drew their eyes upward to see the eternal life prepared for all human beings by His Father. He also drew their eyes outward to contemplate on a new world different from the one they were living in, if only they could continue his mission of spreading the Good News to all humanity until the end of time.
Unfortunately, the disciples were still in the dark as to the real goal of Christ’s mission on earth and so even at the last moment of the Lord’s life on earth, they asked him the question that had been burning in their hearts so long: “Lord, has the time come?” (Acts 1:6). Was Jesus going to restore the world now? The more insistent they became with this earthly question, the higher Jesus rose. Finally he spoke: “Let us not speak about the time and date when all this will be fulfilled. Let us talk about how you will become aware of the power of the Spirit within you; how you will proclaim the Good News, baptizing all those who believe, chasing away evil, picking up snakes, and laying on hands. Go! It is now up to you- I am placing everything in your hands!” And he rose higher and higher until he disappeared from their view. The mission Jesus entrusted to his disciples on that day is the same mission we too his followers of today must carry on.
The Jewish congregation was always curious to see their rabbi disappear each week on the eve of the Sabbath. The suspected he was secretly meeting the Almighty. So they deputed one of their member to follow him. This is what the man saw: the rabbi disguised himself in peasant clothes and served a paralyzed Gentile woman in her cottage, cleaning out the room and preparing a Sabbath meal for her. When the spy got back the congregation asked. ‘Where did the rabbi go? Did he ascend to heaven?’ ‘No’, the man replied. ‘He went even higher.’
Ascension is the feast of hope. It is a hope that if we carry on the mission of Christ serving the poor and the needy, we will pave the way for a new world promised by Christ. Above all we will be preaching the Good News to all. We need to keep in our mind this hope for a better world to come for us and for all humanity.
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.