Life As Jesus’ Successors
Ascension Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 16: 15 — 20
The Christian Year has brought us so far from Advent, through Christmas and Epiphany — to Lent and Easter. Now we commence the final stage, starting with Ascension, which leads us to Pentecost, the fulfilment of the Biblical cycle of Christ’s life on earth. It is an inspiring event in which the devout so often experience that as He departs, they feel closer to Him than ever before. This is a prelude to the beautiful gift of the Holy Spirit which ensures we will continue to grow in that knowledge and experience of belonging to the Lord.
Although Mark 16: 9 — 20, known as the Long Ending (LE), is considered by virtually all Scripture scholars to have been written, not by St. Mark, but some faithful disciple, nevertheless, it is held almost universally to be part of the Canon of the New Testament. Although no dogmatic teaching of the Church is based on it, Christians have long valued the things it highlights for us. For further reading on LE, please visit the Appendix.
Some Reflections on the Text
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the
gospel to every creature.
In this verse which opens our reading, Jesus uses a rabbinic expression, “preach the news to all creation”, meaning to humanity in general i.e. making the message accessible by all people.
The first Christians were transfixed with the Lord’s clear emphasis on the catholic nature of His mission: above all else, His “God Spell” — God Words, His Gospel was for every creature. There were to be no exceptions: the Church of Christ is to be universal — it is to be “at home” in all cultures, in all ages.
Our Lord used the word, “proclaim”. Some translations have “preach”, which means proclaim. The modern meaning of proclaim: merely to state publically, does not contain the full Biblical meaning. This includes the meaning of the Latin, proclamare — to cry out, but goes much further. In rabbinic teaching, a truth is not “proclaimed” until it is both heard and understood: enough to accept or reject.
Jesus is not just commanding His Apostles to go forth and “proclaim” — He is also “empowering” them, which His commands always do, to carry out their task satisfactorily and effectively. For our Lord was a very great rabbi and upheld one of the oldest traditions: that disciples of the Messiah will not have taught until their listeners have learnt!
The Apostles will have proclaimed, preached, taught the Gospel, when their listeners have heard and understood enough to be able to make a reasoned choice: to accept Christ’s invitation, or reject it.
Some crude evangelisation practices are based on the mistaken idea that all they have to do to carry out the Lord’s command in this verse, is to confront people with their presentation of the Gospel (as they see it) and heap the burden of dealing with it upon the listener. This lacks the integrity of our Lord’s example of patiently drawing people to Him and His message, even if they do not at first respond positively, and require considerable nurturing.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever
does not believe will be condemned.
This verse uses the rabbinic method of highlighting the high point of our Lord’s purpose and teaching — by contrasting it with its counterpart. Whoever hears the message of Jesus and is drawn to Him is called therefore to enter into His death and resurrection — this is what baptism means. Whoever is given such insight and grace by the Lord, and refuses to respond, will remain lost. But those who have had the Gospel message preached to them yet do not honestly understand sufficiently to make a reasoned choice to follow the Lord — and therefore fail to believe in Him, are not to be considered condemned.
A necessary component is the inner hearing. Those who do hear in this way should be baptised to become active participants of Jesus’ saving work. As one scholar has remarked, it is not the want of baptism that condemns a person, but the contempt of it. The latter part of the verse suggests however that conversion is an offer that has its appointed time; one should not let it slip by.
Verse 17 and 18
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name
they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents (with their hands), and if they
drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay
hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
This is followed by a stunning promise: signs will accompany belief. Jesus says “In my name they will …..”. We need to be careful not to miss the key emphasis due to fascination with the signs listed.
R. Alan Cole helps us avoid missing the point:
Here again is a great rule of the spiritual life; signs are to be
given to those who believe, not primarily in order that
they may believe. This was the ceaseless battle between the
Pharisees and Jesus, with the Pharisees reiterating their demands
for a sign, and Jesus equally adamant (8: 11 — 12) that no sign
would be given to their unbelief. (Emphasis – ours).
Verses 17 and 18 are a graphic illustration that the whole of the Lord’s public ministry was the perfect fulfilment of the gifts and roles of the Prophets of Israel.
The prophets spoke “in the name of the Lord”. The Apostles did likewise (Acts 3: 6 etc). But there was an important difference between Jesus and all the other messengers God sent into the world. He acted in His own name; they in the name of another. He wielded his own power; they were instruments, by which God put forth His powerful arm to save. He was therefore God and this is a final affirmation of the fact as the Gospel draws to a close.
The signs which follow were to be a demonstration that the disciples were exercising authority Jesus has given them. All, except the drinking of poison, were witnessed in the scriptures. Of particular significance to Jesus’ listeners was the reference to picking up snakes. This was easily recognised in the early Church as the working out of the New Exodus in the time of the Messiah. The Lord had worked mighty wonders for His people on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. They believed He would continue to do so in light of Jesus’ promise. It was in the view of this that Psalm 91 became the regular night prayer of the infant church, and it has remained so ever since, for many Christians.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.
This clearly describes the ascension, in language borrowed from the Old Testament. The imagery of the ascent of Elijah (2 Kings 2: 11) is combined with Psalm 110 (verse one). So the early Christian interpretation of the Lord’s ascension is clear; it is His triumphal ascent, to be followed by enthronement. Psalm 110 is the great messianic psalm, where Melchizedek’s priesthood is promised to the Lord. It is the psalm quoted by Jesus to the authorities when He asked them the difficult question about David’s son, who was also David’s Lord (Mark 12: 37).
But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through
St. Mark’s Gospel emphasises the power of Jesus, as well as His servanthood. Jesus’ life and teaching reflect values quite distinct from what is often seen. The common view of power is to control others in order to get your way. But Jesus, with all authority and power in heaven and on earth chose to serve others. He held children in His arms and let them flop all over Him as he talked. He healed many who were sick. He washed the feet of his disciples, and died for the forgiveness of the world’s sin. Being a disciple of Jesus means succeeding Him in His mission of service and it means receiving the same power to serve. It is true we are called, as believers, to be His friends, but also to join Him in His chosen life of service. As He served, so are we to serve.
Encouragement From The Saints
Before we conclude this reflection, let’s listen to three great Doctors (teachers) of the early Church as they offer their advice on interpreting this unique passage of Scripture.
Commenting on Mk 16: 14 — 20, and referring to the faithful follower of Christ, he writes:
“They expel devils when they banish sin which is worse than the
devil; they speak new tongues when they converse no longer on
vain and sinful things, but on those which are spiritual and heavenly.”
Commenting on the same passage he says:
“They take up serpents, when by zealous exhortations they
lift others from the shame of vice, without being
themselves poisoned; they drink deadly things without
being hurt by them, when they hear improper conversation
without being corrupted or led to evil; they lay their
hands upon the sick and heal them; when they teach the
ignorant, they strengthen, by their good example, those
who are wavering in virtue, keeping the sinner from evil,
and similar things.”
Teaching us not to give up because of our weakness he says:
“Let us ascend in spirit with Christ, that when His day comes,
we may follow with our body. Yet you must know, beloved
brethren, that not pride, nor avarice, nor impurity, nor any
other vice ascends with Christ; for with the teacher of humility,
pride ascends not, nor with the author of goodness, malice,
nor with the Son of the Virgin, impurity. Let us then ascend
with Him by trampling upon our vices and evil inclinations,
thus building a ladder by which we can ascend; for we make
a ladder of our sins to heaven when we tread them down in
Suggestions for Biblical Prayer
For those who would like to deepen their knowledge and understanding of our Lord’s mission, we offer some suggestions for meditation.
• 2 Kings 2 The Ascension of Elijah.
• Ezekiel 11: 22 The Glory of God leaving the Temple.
• Psalms 91 and 110 Great messianic psalms.
• Zechariah 14: 4 The Return of God on the Mount of Olives.
• Luke 24: 50 — 53 The Ascension of Jesus.
• Acts 2: 14 — 36 The Gift of the Spirit.
• Ephesians 2: 1 — 6 Raised up and seated with Christ.
• Colossians 3: 1 — 4 Hidden with Christ.
The ascension sounds the depths of human leave-taking. Jesus has gone home. He has left us and we are saddened. We can console ourselves and rejoice that we have known Him…We can, however, rejoice far more in His abiding presence with us in his Spirit, for Jesus is not a mere man. We can rejoice, too, in the assurance that where He is, we, one day, shall also be!
(From the Glenstal Missal, Collins 1984)
Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Life As Jesus‘ Successors
Ascension Year B St. Mark 16: 15 — 20
1. Jesus said, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”.
It is a beautiful feature of Christianity that it belongs in and to every culture. Our Lord left it to His Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, to establish His Church in every culture. Thus we find the Faith evident in a vast range of religious expression. Some Christians are uncomfortable about this, and look upon the Western models as the standard by which others should be measured. But Jesus welcomed many from outside the regular religious practice of His day, and commanded compliance only with the Will of God (in the Scriptures and moral teaching) ― never with human tradition alone.
As a world religion, we have a long way to go before we stop criticizing one another for different cultural traditions. The “backbiting”, bitter comments some Christians make about others in the Faith are an extremely damaging factor as Christianity struggles to hold many of its members. We can start to eradicate this by revisiting just exactly what the “gospel” is that Jesus commissioned to be taken to every creature.
2. After Jesus had addressed His closest disciples with His final command, He was taken up into heaven where He took His seat at the right hand of God.
Our critics are quick to scoff at the simple imagery recorded about the Lord taking His seat at God’s right hand ― all too human and primitive for them! ― too much like a fairy tale which had to have a happy ending.
Whoever wrote this final passage attached to St. Mark’s Gospel, was in fact, reflecting the powerful, unstoppable faith of the first Christians who knew with certitude that JESUS CHRIST REIGNS!
3. Each week we offer three meditations or points as examples of personal reflection on the Scriptures. Notice we call this section by a title taken from
The great message of our Faith is that Jesus is God’s Word, Instruction, Torah, Way, Truth and Life. Jesus is both Teacher and Teaching.
When we take His Gospel to every creature, we take Him. He Himself is the Message. It is for this reason His messengers are called upon to study and meditate on His teaching to ensure that they do not proclaim barren, sterile legalism, but rather the joy-filled, life-giving message of Jesus which we must practise before we preach it.
Let’s pray for one another, that the Body of Christ will continue to proclaim Jesus as our Way, our Truth and our Life, and that we will reflect His character in our day to day actions.
Appendix: Mark 16: 9 — 20
Some Christians find themselves perplexed upon learning that Mark 16: 9 ― 20 was not part of the original Gospel according to St Mark. It may be helpful to remember that the New Testament was not compiled and approved until the 4th Century. It was at that time two councils of bishops formally approved the “canon”, the authentic text of the New Testament. In the 16th Century, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the New Testament canon, which included the longer ending of Mark 16: 9 ― 20. Three distinguished theologians have made these points:
“The ending ….. is a fragment which comes, if not from
“It should be borne in mind that, whatever conclusion
Mark 16: 9 ― 20 is commonly referred to as The Longer
Mark 16: 15 — 20
Ascension Year B
15 He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the
16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever
17 These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name
18 They will pick up serpents (with their hands), and if they drink
19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up
20 But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord
2 [9-20] This passage, termed the Longer Ending to the Marcan gospel by comparison with a much briefer conclusion found in some less important manuscripts, has traditionally been accepted as a canonical part of the gospel and was defined as such by the Council of Trent. Early citations of it by the Fathers indicate that it was composed by the second century, although vocabulary and style indicate that it was written by someone other than Mark. It is a general resume of the material concerning the appearances of the risen Jesus, reflecting, in particular, traditions found in Luke 24 and John 20. The Shorter Ending: Found after ⇒ Mark 16:8 before the Longer Ending in four seventh-to-ninth-century Greek manuscripts as well as in one Old Latin version, where it appears alone without the Longer Ending. The Freer Logion: Found after v 14 in a fourth-fifth century manuscript preserved in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, this ending was known to Jerome in the fourth century. It reads: “And they excused themselves, saying, “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things dominated by the spirits [or, does not allow the unclean things dominated by the spirits to grasp the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal your righteousness now.’ They spoke to Christ. And Christ responded to them, “The limit of the years of Satan’s power is completed, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who sinned I was handed over to death, that they might return to the truth and no longer sin, in order that they might inherit the spiritual and incorruptible heavenly glory of righteousness. But . . .’ “
3  THE SHORTER ENDING – [And they reported all the instructions briefly to Peter’s companions. Afterwards Jesus himself, through them, sent forth from east to west the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. Amen.]
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,