Back in my Secondary/High School years when I participated in Inter-House sports, I already had long legs and was involved in track and field. I remember being instructed by our relay race coach that it’s less important how fast one member of the relay team runs. The critical moment in a relay race is the passing on of the baton from one runner to the other. More relay races are won and lost at that moment than at any other. We also find that such is life—an unbroken series of letting go of the baton as we move from one phase to the other. Parents pass on parental responsibilities to children. Some, though, unwilling to accept the fact of their children growing up are reluctant to hand over the baton for the understandable fear that Junior might screw things up. However, the reality is that it is often less about Junior screwing up than their coming to terms with the aging process and realizing that it’s time to start thinking of the afterlife. A similar situation occurs sometimes when a retiring senior manager would have to handover to someone else. Some look upon everyone else as incompetent and immature to handle the affairs and would moan and groan their relinquishing of power, often positioning themselves as clogs in the wheel of progress for their eventual successor. We should learn a lesson from Jesus.
Ascension is the feast of the passing of the baton from Jesus to His apostles. He knew that they weren’t yet masters in the game. A few weeks ago, they were sleeping on duty, running away from problems, and denying ever knowing whom their master was. Yet, He went on to hand the baton to them. Their inexperience didn’t deter Him from commissioning them to complete the work He began. He, in fact, increased the scope of their job: to take the message to the ends of the earth, and promising them His abiding presence.
Here is how Jesus is different from those who refuse to give up positions. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus gave up His life in order to save us, and so, is glad to have accomplished the will of His father. How about the narcissistic rulers? They have depended on the sheep to oil their own lives and they become afraid that the sheep might have a breather and wise up or even turn against them. Earthly glory meant nothing to Jesus as opposed to the narcissistic sit-tight managers and rulers who hang on to what they call their “legacy” and see any change as an attack on them. Jesus ascends into heaven so that He might release the Promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit) to aid the apostles in their future ministry. The narcissistic controllers retire to insecurity and from there sling mud at the endeavors of their successors. Jesus ascends on high; the insecure despots descend to low blows.
For all of us, the Ascension is a call to take up our mantle and become witnesses of Christ to the world. There are as many ways to do this as there are Christians. We can do what two 25 year old university graduates did recently. After their graduation, one from Georgetown, and the other from Harvard, they entered the seminary to train for the priesthood. We can do what Albert Schweitzer did. At the age of 30 he abandoned his music career in Europe to study medicine and became a missionary doctor in Gabon. We can do what the basketball coach of Spring Hill College Alabama, did a few years back. At the age of 45, he resigned his position and began studies for the priesthood. We can do what the saintly Mother Angelica did. In her 50’s she started the now famous Catholic television channel, EWTN. We can imagine what courage it took for these five individuals to do what they did. Yet, each person can carry out the commission of Jesus to be his witnesses by becoming teachers in our homes, our workplaces, and our schools.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo