Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. As he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.
The ascension is the hinge event between Jesus’ resurrection and his sending of the Spirit. Luke ends his gospel with Jesus’ departure and begins the Acts of the Apostles with the same moment.
In the ascension Jesus passes over into communion with God, bridging the human and divine. He blesses this company of followers about to become a Spirit-filled community, witnesses to the paschal mystery of Jesus’ passage from death to new life.
How do you understand where the risen Jesus is? How do you imagine the communion with his Father to which the risen Jesus returns?
My son, you are with me always, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice! This brother of yours was dead and lives again. He was lost and is found.
In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, Luke holds up not only a model of conversion in the younger son but also a characterization of Jesus’ faithful and forgiving Father. The father in the parable does not wait for his son to arrive home but runs to meet him, embraces him, and kisses him lovingly.
The father never allows the son to finish the confession he has planned, which ends in asking to be a hired a hand. The son’s act of coming home acknowledges his new desire to reconnect as much as any words can say. The father restores him as a son with robe, ring, and sandals and sets a homecoming table for him.
But the elder son resents his father welcoming his brother home. Will he join the celebration as his father urges?
What does the father in the parable tell us about God?
Jesus tells a parable about a man who plants a fig tree in his orchard but finds no fruit after three years. The man tells the gardener to cut it down.
The gardener said, “Sir, leave it one more year while I hoe around it and manure it. Perhaps then it will bear figs. If not, you can cut down.”
Jesus’ parable of the fig tree reveals God’s hope and compassion for people. The gardener, who cares for each tree, pleads for more care and more time. Let it grow another year. A little loosening of the soil, a little more nourishment, maybe it will bear fruit.
In what ways are you like the owner of the vineyard? In what ways like the gardener?
While Jesus was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly two men were talking with him—Moses and Elijah.
The dazzling, transforming light suggests divine presence. As he prays, Jesus’ inner life and light become transparent in his outward appearance, just as our values and commitments show through in our bodies over our lifetimes. His spirit and body are one. Two great prophets of Israel’s past come alive in Jesus’ consciousness to lead him on as he prepares to set his face for Jerusalem.
Who do you know whose spirit seems transparent in his or her face or body? What do you hope shows forth in you?
The devil had been tempting Jesus in the desert.
Jesus said, “Scripture says, ‘You shall not put the Holy One your God to the test.’”
In their theological duel Jesus and his antagonist express two very different interpretations of the role and mission of the messiah. The devil tempts Jesus to display his power―to turn stone to bread, to take over world rule to prove he is God’s Son. Jesus answers each temptation with a scripture verse from Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of Israel’s law or Torah. Jesus is God’s Spirit-filled prophet who trusts God’s word.
What temptations do you as a Christian face in our society today?
Jesus read, “The Spirit of God is upon me, for God has anointed me and sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty for captives, sight to the blind, release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.
The prisoners make the list along with the poor, the weak and the disabled?the ones about whom it is the very easiest to say, “not worth it.” They are the ones who seem to take more from society or from individuals than they give, the ones about whom we might ask, “What good have they ever done for us?”
As Jesus so vividly points out, we humans are in this thing together. In this amazing and wonderful and occasionally painful journey called life, none of us deserves to be a part of it any more than the most burdensome companion does.
Talk about a time when a person surprised you by offering gifts to a community that you didn’t know they had.
When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
By the time of John the Baptist in Israel’s history, people wonder where to look for salvation. If God’s salvation isn’t able to come through the land, or the king, or temple worship, or the law, then how and when will it come? Into this very unsettled state of affairs arrives John the Baptist, who in Sunday’s gospel proclaims the imminent arrival of the messiah.
John insists that salvation is not about him and his labors. Whatever success his ministry enjoys will be a credit to the one who baptizes with fire rather than merely with water.
As Jesus himself comes up out of the baptismal waters, a dove and a voice from heaven affirm that, at long last, this is the one. “Behold my beloved Son, the reliable gateway to salvation!”
What does baptism empower, and how can we live out our baptisms faithfully?
Joseph and Mary had traveled with a large group of friends and relatives from Jerusalem to Nazareth for an entire day before they realized Jesus wasn’t with him. They returned to Jerusalem and looked for two days before finding him in the temple. Jesus did not understand their anxiety and confusion.
Jesus said, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
When Mary anxiously questions why he didn’t tell them where he was, Jesus expects they should have known what he was doing. He must be about his Father’s affairs. In Luke’s gospel, the word must refers to the role his Father has given Jesus. Later he tells his followers, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God (4.43) and “The Son of Man must suffer…be killed…and on the third day be raised” (9.22).
Who talked to you about faith and purpose in your teen years? With what young people have you talked about how you live and practice your faith?
John the Baptist echoes the words of Second Isaiah to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.
Make ready a road for God. Clear a straight path for God. Every valley shall be filled; every mountain and hill shall be leveled. The winding shall be made straight and rough ways smooth, and all humankind shall see the salvation of God.
When the prophet Second Isaiah sees the Persian king Cyrus conquering the Babylonians (540 B.C.), he becomes a herald who announces God will lead the people home from exile. His prophetic poetry imagines God powerfully straightening hairpin turns, filling impassable crevasses, and smoothing exhausting terrain. People of Jesus’ time hear echoes of Second Isaiah in the preaching of John the Baptist, who calls us to get a God-attentive attitude and prepare a road for God to come among us in Jesus.
What does the road you are currently traveling reveal about where you are going?
Jesus is warning his followers about the frightening natural events that will accompany the return of Son of Man.
When these things happen, stand straight and lift up your heads for your redemption is near at hand.
In verses we hear this Sunday, Jesus talks about fear, foreboding, and signs in the heavens that the end is near. Chaos in nature is a common way to express the overturning of human expectations. Rather than be afraid, Jesus recommends we stand up straight and raise our heads. Our salvation is near, our wholeness is here. The gospel message reminds us that no matter how threatening world or personal events, we live from beginning to end in the embrace of God.
In our experience of being alive, we find God within us. In turning to one another and bridging our separate selves we find God among us. In experiencing our human limits, we find we have heart and hope for mystery—God beyond us.
The God of our beginning is the God of all we will become. In Jesus we find God incarnate among us and recognize the holy in him and in our human selves. Jesus gives us every reason to hope that the loving actions he teaches will get us through not only every day but any day.
What suggests to you the world is falling apart?
What suggests to you we are building a just and holy world?
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