The aroma of pine trees, the scurrying of little forest creatures, and the multiplicity of blossoming plants and flowers often accompanied me whenever I took hikes in forest parks. Now I am unable to take such hikes, but one thing I do remember is that on one trip I was told that there was a lovely waterfall at the end of the trail. Well into an hour on the path, I was suddenly surprised. I encountered some crossroads. Was I to go left or right? After having recalled the directions from the forest ranger, I wound up making the correct choice. An important lesson was that of always being prepared in order to make the correct choice.
In two of the readings for the feast of the Ascension (Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 and Matthew 28:16-20), we note that the close disciples of Jesus could well have been “at the crossroads.” They had to make a choice. Jesus is about to “go home” to the Father, so that he will no longer physically accompany them. What are they to do? It becomes a matter of making a choice once they are aware of the options.
One can look at the options after a brief analysis of the above readings. The first reading (Acts 1:1-11) tells us about Jesus’ message. Luke the Evangelist says that in his Gospel he recounted much of what Jesus said. In the book of Acts, Luke has Jesus telling the disciples that they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Finally, after the recption of the Holy Spirit, the disciples would be witnesses.
What can we learn from this reading (Acts)? First, the disciples learn primarily of Jesus’ message of justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Secondly, the disciples will be baptized by the Holy Spirit. Thirdly, after the Baptism the disciples will be witnesses. So, from this reading (Acts), we learn that the disciples will undoubtedly know of Jesus’ message, be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and then by proclaming Jesus will become his witnesses. All disciples (including ourselves) are required to follow this pattern.
The Gospel reading (Matthew 28:16-20) opens with what we can see as the implication of the symbolic value of the “mountain.” In biblical thinking, the mountain was considered the meeting point between heaven and earth. That is to say, something important was going to occur. (For example: Mt. Sinai: the place of covenant between God and his people. The mount of the Transfiguration: Jesus’ humanity and divinity are manifested. Mt. Calvary: Jesus’ death, together with the Resurrection, helped manifest Jesus’ experiences toward human salvation.)
The symbol of the mountain in Galiee (Matthew 28:16) could well have been the “crossroads” for the disciples. Jesus was “going home” to the Father, as the feast of the Ascencion indicates, so that means the disciples had a decision to make. What were they to do?
The second part of this reading shows that Jesus was comissioning his disciples to carry on his ministry. How? By comissioning them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And for the disciples to feel assured while promoting the continuity of this ministry, Jesus promised to be WITH them until the end of time.
So, we also are “at the crossroads” of decision making every time that we are challenged either to detour or to avoid the proclamation of Jesus’ message to others. But we have the promise of Jesus that he will be WITH us always as long as we remember and react to the presence of the Holy Spirit (“creative power of God”) whom we received at Baptism.