WHEN Jesus ascended into heaven, he spoke to his disciples these consoling words, “I am always with you until the end of time.”
This is the heart of the Gospel; this is why Jesus became man in Bethlehem born of the virgin. This is why Jesus is present in the Eucharist. This is the good news that we want to proclaim and celebrate everywhere.
When I was sent out as a young missionary to Sarawak, I did not know any native language. I would travel at the most once a year to the remote villages along the jungle river. Apart from saying Mass, there was nothing to do except to sit, eat, drink, and dance with the people during the evenings and night times, and, after breakfast until late afternoon, when people had returned to their farms, hung around and waited for hours until I was taken to the next village.
Looking back on this period of life, it seemed like a waste of time, doing nothing. Later and upon reflection, however, I came to see it as true participation in the mission of Jesus, namely “simply to be present”.
When Jesus came into the world, he came as a baby, unable to do anything. His world, apart from technology etc., was probably not very different from the time in which we live.
There were then and now many good things for sure, but these do not capture our minds. We are rather preoccupied with poverty, suffering, sickness, racism, vandalism, economic collapse, extortion, war, political divisions, etc. These oppress us and are newsworthy. Many people hoped that when the Messiah came, he would straighten out things, but instead, Jesus came as a baby.
To understand God’s plan, we should read what God spoke to Moses when he revealed himself in the story of the burning bush. It says, “The Lord said, “I have seen the affliction of my people and have heard their cry; I know their suffering, and I have come down to deliver them.” (Exodus 3:7-9)
So, what does God do? “I will send you Moses to Pharaoh that you might bring forth my people out of Egypt.” He sends Moses who for forty years (= a lifetime) leads the people through the desert, feeding them with bread from heaven – “manna” – and water from the rock.
This story of the exodus and Israelites in the desert serves as an illustration of Jesus’ plan and mission. When Jesus teaches his disciples, he refers to himself in these stories of the Old Testament.
As Jesus ascends into heaven, he sums up his plan when he says, “I will be with you till the end of times.” God’s promise to be with his people was fulfilled in the Old Testament in manna and water, and in the New Testament by word and spirit, by Jesus’ flesh and blood in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his presence!
How do we live and experience this real presence? There is a story of the old beggar, who came every day to church for an hour or so, sitting on the last bench apparently doing nothing. So, one day the parish priest somewhat irritated asked him what he was doing there? Upon which the beggar answered, “I look at him for he likes to look at me!”
It is faith in Jesus’ word “I am the ‘bread of life” that helps and comforts this beggar and will help us through life. Not only is he the bread of life, but he is also the light of the world to guide my thoughts and understanding of everything.
He opens doors which, until he comes, were closed, caring for me as a good shepherd with his crook and staff so I fear no evil. And when I am discouraged and depressed, he raises my spirit so I can live again. For even when I have failed, he shows me the way to the truth, the merciful embrace of the heavenly Father so that I may not be dead but live.
All this is only true because he is the vine that produces the wine to make us happy.
- Where does Jesus want to be foremost present?
- What is your mission in life?