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The Eleven

The Ascension of the Lord

[All public liturgies in the State of Ohio are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. This will be one part homily and one part pastoral message to my parishioners.]

When I’m doing a baptism this is the Gospel passage that I usually read, and I always wonder if people are listening close enough to catch the oddity of the first line. The eleven disciples went to Galilee. Not the twelve, but the eleven. The reason it is the eleven disciples is easy enough to figure out when you know that this after the Resurrection: there were twelve apostles but one of them was Judas. The twelve had became the eleven, and it wouldn’t be until later on after Pentecost that they selected a new apostle to restore their numbers to twelve. So the eleven – as the Gospel continues – the eleven saw Jesus, they worshiped, but they doubted. Now isn’t that another curious oddity to hear. After the resurrection we don’t often think of the apostles as doubting; they become the bold missionaries to the world just like Christ commissioned them to be in what we read today. And think about this for a moment… soon as they see Jesus resurrected what is there to doubt? Dumbfounded and confused and awe stuck, sure… but “doubt” just seems a little odd to me. So then I started to doubt the translation. But nope, the Greek word in the original text is διστάζω, “to doubt or hesitate”, with no other subtle nuance that a translation might leave out.

The eleven saw. They worshiped. But they doubted.

I wonder if they doubted themselves more than they doubted in Christ. And I want to be clear to you that this thought is just my speculation — one of several ways you could hear this Gospel — because the text doesn’t go into detail about their doubt. But in the Gospel of Matthew this takes place before Christ breathes his Spirit upon them and gifts them with the courage and fire of Pentecost. The apostles are still struggling at this point with their own individual guilt of abandoning Christ during his Passion, and I think going to the mountain to meet Christ and to hear his words, like they had done so many times for the past three years of following after him… they must have come to it with a lot of doubt about themselves knowing that they were the eleven and not the twelve.

But thankfully for us, Jesus tends to have more confidence in us than we do in ourselves. Jesus selected the twelve apostles knowing that some of them were simple fisherman, knowing that at least one of them was a sinful tax collector, and even knowing that one of them would be his betrayer. And at the end of it all as they see, worship and doubt, Jesus trusts them to be the ones who build his Church and to baptize the nations. These eleven doubtful men are quite literally the reason why you and I know who Christ is and call ourselves Christian. As he does so many times in the Scriptures, God chose the weak and the unlikely to do the most important things in his plan for humanity.

So stepping back and looking at ourselves, I think it’s important that we don’t let our own doubts and weaknesses hold us back from the work that God has called us to do in this world for the sake of His Name. On your first day of high school or the first day of college you probably had some doubts about how well you were going to make it through the next couple of years. When it was your first day at a new job you probably were nervous in your new setting. When you walked down the aisle on your wedding day or walked out of the hospital with your first child, you probably had some anxiety about what your life was becoming. When you had tragedies like mourning the death of someone you loved, you probably felt like you didn’t know how to keep going. But guess what? In all those things you survived and are doing ok. Even in your honest mistakes and failures, you have learned and you have grown. So hear the words of the Christ and make them your mission despite any hesitation: “Go. Make disciples. Baptism them into my life. Teach them what I have taught you. Go.” The apostles saw, worshiped, doubted, and then they went out to every nation.

The world is at a unique moment. Everyone’s routine has been interrupted and their is no more normal. This is a once in a generation moment when society as a whole is rethinking how we do things and what our values really are. May our personal lives and attitudes reflect that we are disciples of Christ. Through us, may the work of making disciples of all nations continue.

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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.

Published inHomilies