A circus came to town, offering a prize of P500,000 to anyone who could stay in the lion’s cage for a minimum of five minutes.
A man of faith who was familiar with the biblical story of Daniel’s deliverance from the lion’s den, and who desperately needed the money agreed to the challenge. Once he got inside the cage, the lion quickly approached him, backing him into the corner. Frightened and anxious, the man knelt on the ground and began to pray. He finished with these words, “Please, God, watch over me and do not forsake me in my time of need.”
When the man finished his prayer, he looked up to discover that the lion too was kneeling in prayer. Indignantly, the man asked, “What on earth could you be praying for? I’m the one in danger here!”
The lion very calmly said, “I am giving thanks for what I am about to eat.”
As we start another school year as a Church, there are also times when we are not sure if we should tremble in fear and anxiety, or like the lion, if we should give thanks for the opportunity that lies before us.
In the scripture passage, the setting is the Mount of Olives. Jesus has broken bread with his disciples, and announced to them that soon, they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and when the Holy Spirit has come upon them, they will be given power to be witnesses for him, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth, including Dumaguete city.
When he had spoken these words, he was lifted up before them into the heavens until a cloud hid him from their sight. As the disciples stood there gazing into the sky, two men dressed in white stood beside them and said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up into the sky?”
At this, the disciples returned to Jerusalem. On entering the city, they went straight upstairs where they had been staying. The writer of Acts tells us they were gathered in one accord, and they devoted themselves to prayer.
There was a feeling of fear and anxiety. They were perplexed and vulnerable. Yet, there was also excitement. They remained in Jerusalem as Jesus had instructed them.
What does this say to us today as we start once again another school year?
First of all, we, as followers of Christ are mandated to share the Good News. Jesus challenged his disciples to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. He called them to a great adventure. They were to leave their homes and travel to the corners of the world to be witnesses of the gospel message.
A witness is defined as someone who is willing to step forward and speak from personal experience. This person does not talk about something based on what he has merely heard or read.
As witnesses, we, too, must faithfully tell the story of how Jesus changed our lives, and how he can change the lives of others who come to him. That is why growing in faith is part of the education at Silliman University.
In a Church where I used to serve as a pastor, there was this boy who was in a special class because he had what we call dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a disturbance where the person has difficulty reading because when he looks at a word, the letters are jumbled.
One time, I went to visit the family. The boy’s class just came back from a trip to the museum. When I arrived, he started telling me his experience in the museum. He was so excited about it that it took him about 30 minutes to tell me what he saw and what they did. At the end of his story, he showed me some of the things he bought, and gave me some of his candies he bought from the museum.
This is what we call a witness. We have a story to tell. We have the story of God’s saving grace to share with others.
A new school year opens. For us who work in this university or any institution for that matter, do our actions witness to the presence of Christ? Remember we are mandated to be witnesses.
Secondly, aside from the mandate of being a witness, Jesus also gave a promise.
In the state of confusion and uncertainty in which Jesus’ followers found themselves, they desperately needed reassurance.
Luke records the promise of Jesus saying, “And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father … for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).
God empowered them to carry out the ministry of Christ. Only God was capable of sustaining them in the face of the persecution that would come later. It was God who would be able to guide and direct them out of their current state of confusion. This was God’s promise to the disciples and to us. And God is always faithful to his promise.
Several men were dressing in the locker room of an exclusive health club. A cellphone sitting on one of the benches began to ring. A man picked it up and the following conversation ensued: “Hello?” “Honey, it’s me. Are you at the club?” “Yes.” “Great! I am at the mall two blocks from where you are. I saw a beautiful dress. It is absolutely gorgeous! And it is on sale. Can I buy it?” “What’s the price? Well, okay, go ahead and get it if you like it that much.” “Ahhh, and I also saw a pair of shoes that would match with the dress. It’s really a good price.” “What price did he quote you?” “Only P4,000.” “OK, buy a pair of earrings to match your dress as well.” “OK, sweetie, thanks! I’ll see you later! I love you!” “Bye, I do, too.” The man hangs up, closes the phone’s flap, raises the phone, and asks: “Does anyone know who this phone belongs to?”
Obviously, this man was authorizing some expensive purchases without the proper authority to do so.
Jesus made a promise to his disciples. This was not a counterfeit promise made by one without authority. As what Paul wrote, “I pray that you will begin to understand how incredibly great his power is to help those who believe him.”
If we believe Christ is alive and at work in the world, if we believe that Christ has power over life and death and over every demon that vexes the human spirit, then we can go out into the world confidently and courageously knowing that his power is sufficient for any task he has called us to accomplish.
Christ’s ascension promises us his presence and his power. That is the Good News we have for today. Thanks be to God!