Mark 16: 15-20
15 Jesus said to them, "Go out into the world to proclaim the good news to all creation. 16 Anyone who begins to believe to the point of accepting baptism will experience a liberation. Whoever refuses to believe will bear the responsibility. 17 These are the actions revealing the presence of God that will accompany those who believe: they will eradicate the evil impulses in people on my behalf, they will speak new languages. 18 If they ever snatch snakes or drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them. They will lay hands on the sick, and the latter will be well."
19 After thus speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was carried into the divine world to share the autority of God. 20 As for them, they went everywhere to make public announcements, while the Lord collaborated with them and validated their word by supporting it with actions revealing the presence of God.
Faith is born of the feeling of being loved and supported
Gospel commentary - Homily
Learning to walk like Charlotte
A recent event pleasantly surprised me. Charlotte, my twenty months granddaughter, was with her parents at a social gathering where there were other children with their parents. While the majority of the children stuck their parents, intimidated by all that was happening, the little Charlotte was blithely and happily among them, looking for friends to play. Where did she get that confidence that allowed her to face unknown people? And why were the other children scared? Charlotte, however, is timid, but it is her grandmother whom she adores who cares for her during the day, feeds her, amuses and cajoles her while mum works, and this love perhaps gives her this fundamental trust in life. On the other hand, the other children may have the impression of reliving the daycare by seeing everyone, and therefore are afraid to face again the separation.
Presence, trust, separation and fear are part of our lives, and are essential elements in understanding this excerpt from Mark's Gospel.
Let's start by removing some obstacles to a good understanding of the Gospel. The biblists unanimously agree that this part that concludes the Gospel is not of Mark, i.e. it is not the same author as the one who wrote the whole Gospel. Not only are the vocabulary and style different, but verses 10 to 20 form a concluding text that borrows many elements from Luke, both his Gospel (allusion to the disciples of Emmaus) and his Acts of the Apostles (the Apostles lay hands on people to heal them, Paul gets bitten by a viper without being hurt). It was perhaps unacceptable for the first audience of the original Gospel to see it ending with women's fear before an empty tomb, and a better conclusion was required. Why insist on this point? To eliminate the temptation to see the Gospel scene as a video of what happened hour by hour. When one yields to this temptation, the Gospel loses its meaning.
Let's summarize the essentials. The Gospel presents a message from Jesus inviting us to spread throughout the world the good news he has proclaimed all his life, with the assurance that welcoming in faith this good news will be a source of liberation, ie it will allow us to chase the evil and to break down the social barriers, and will ensure that illness and death will have no hold on the believer. Then the Gospel continues by saying that Jesus is now absent because he joined the world of God to have a share of its power. For their part, the disciples answered the call to the mission and saw Jesus' promise of support come true.
What is the key to discover the deeper meaning of this story? The faith. Moreover, the preceding scenes insist on the incredulity of the disciples who refuse to believe what Mary Magdalene or the two disciples of the countryside announce to them, before Jesus makes himself present to them and reproaches them for their unbelief, and before he sends them on a mission. But when we talk about faith, what are we talking about?
I remember a holy man, a priest of the Society of Missionaries of the Holy Apostles, who was not an intellectual and studied theology in old age. The academic examinations were for him a torture. One day, on the eve of an examination, he began to pray, because he wondered how he would succeed so much he was struggling on the matter, "Lord, I know that you love me and that you have called me to to be a priest. Look at my difficulties. Come to my help. I need 60% to succeed. If I have 60%, but not a tenth more, I'll know that this is your work, not mine". The priest passes his exam with 60%. What I retain from this example is a man's sense of being loved and supported, which has allowed him not only to turn to prayer, but to have confidence that things would be good for him.
Faith comes from the experience of unconditional love. It usually begins at home, but it takes unsuspected dimensions when it opens to this infinite love at the source of the universe. This is what the Gospels say by associating the baptism of Jesus with his experience of being loved by God: "You are my beloved son". Basically, the being with faith says this: I am an important and loved being, I am not alone and I am involved in journey that goes beyond me; no matter how difficult or painful it may be, this journey will succeed, even if it is only through death. This fundamental trust completely changes the horizon: even if there are painful crises, even if there are separations that breaks the heart with cruelty, even if there are resounding failures that leave us lost; this trust will never stop believing that all these terrible things are not the end of our life and we will be able to resurrect.
This is what the Gospel puts into the mouth of Jesus: those who believe will be able to expel evil impulses (demons) and to push back evil in all its forms; those who believe will know how to leave the prison of their little world to open themselves with confidence to the whole universe (speak new languages); those who believe will know how to ensure that events harmful and seen as catastrophes (snakes, deadly poisons) do not destroy them; those who believe will have a saving influence on others (the sick will be well). It is this faith that also makes it possible to transform the absence of Jesus into a new presence, which we call Ascension, ie Jesus now shares the prerogatives of God, and so we can feel his presence in a new way.
This story is part of the Ascension liturgy that is usually forty days after Easter. Did Jesus need forty days to join the world of God? Of course not. His death and his passage in the dimension of God are probably one and the same event. But then why talk about forty days? This symbolic number refers to the period of time we need to open ourselves to faith, such as those forty years of the Hebrew people in the desert before reaching the promised land. But when we accept that faith guides our life, then we are reborn in a new life, we no longer speak of the ascension of Jesus but of ours, and we walk with confidence like a Charlotte. Are we ready for this journey?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, April 2012