Young Woman: Don’t tell me, neighbor!
Neighbor: I’m telling you: Tomorrow morning, Jesus of Nazareth will appear on this hill. On this very site the miracle will take place, never seen before by anyone: a dead man rising to life! They say he’s been seen here and there for forty days, and now, he’s going to ascend into heaven!
Young Woman: On my God, who’s going to prepare the food and take care of the house?
Neighbor: Forget about it, young woman! I couldn’t care less, even if they rob me, or the food gets burned! I wouldn’t miss this for anything, not even for the entire wealth of Solomon! So, hurry and inform the hunchbacked woman, old man Nemesio and my comadre Tilita… Inform everyone! Everybody must come!
Young Woman: Don’t you worry, neighbor. The whole barrio will be here! Even Martin, the mad man, shall be here tomorrow!
There was no need to announce to everyone. The news that Jesus was going to appear by the lakeside of Tiberias on the hill of the Seven Fountains, spread like wild fire, and before sunset everyone had already been informed. That night, nobody slept in Capernaum…. When the cocks proclaimed the new day, men and women, old and young, everyone left through the gate of the Consolation and trekked through the hill where the miracle was to take place.
Young Woman: I feel so excited…! Hey, feel my hand…. See?
Neighbor: My gosh, your heart is leaping…
Young Woman: This is something I haven’t seen in my whole life, neighbor….
Neighbor: Neither have I, my child. Imagine, at this age of mine, the greatest miracle I’ve seen so far was when my husband suddenly got rid of those stomach cramps… other than that….
Young Woman: Many things also happened before: the sea was split into two, the sun stopped in the middle of the sky, people were swallowed up by whales, but now that God has become more stingy…
Old Woman: Don’t say that, woman of no faith!… God is great! And today we shall witness marvellous things! They killed him in Jerusalem, but he appears alive in Galilee! Blessed be God!
Neighbor: And blessed are they who see him! So you’d better clean your face now, young woman, for today, you shall be a “witness” to something incredible! Come, let’s go closer!
Like a swarm of ants in pursuit of sugar, the residents of Capernaum walked through the green slopes of the hill where Jesus, many months before, had announced that God was offering his Kingdom to us, the poor and the hungry. Tiberias Lake, like a great blue eye, woke up with the first rays of the sun… But today, there were no white sails of the fishermen crossing the lake in sight…. The boats were moored in the wharf and the nets were left hanging under the palm trees. Today, no one went to work in the whole city.
Bartholomew: Where’s he coming from? The east or the west?
Neighbor: From above, compadre! Just like a ripe fig falling!
Bartholomew: Then it will fall with a big bang!
Neighbor: Don’t be silly, you dope! Remember how the angels went up to heaven and down to earth in Jacob’s dream and yet, nothing happened to them?
Old Man: But they used a ladder, my friend, and that made the difference!
Neighbor: Well, Jesus will also use something to go down! Don’t you think so?
Neighbor: Jesus doesn’t have to! Don’t you know that even the angels and saints can fly like birds?
Old Man: Oh, yeah? Well, Elijah was a saint and yet, a carriage was sent to him so he could go up!
Old Woman: Oh brother! Nothing of that sort! Do you know how Jesus will appear? Up above the clouds! The prophecy says: “Every eye will see and every ear will hear.”
All: Amen, amen!
Old Woman: “He will come in a cloud, and will disappear in another!”
All: Amen, amen!
Old Woman: Say, grandma, where is this cloud? For today the sky is as clear as spring!
There was not a single cloud in the horizon. Blue as zapphire, the sky of Galilee merged with the waters of the lake… The sun, rising from the valleys Gilead was shining radiantly…
Clete: Tell me somethin’ Bartholomew, do you really buy the story that Jesus of Nazareth was nailed on the cross and then rose from the dead?
Bartholomew: Look, compadre, I know they killed him because my uncle Micah was in the capital during the holidays, and he saw it with his own eyes… But I’m not sure about the other one…
Clete: A lizard whose tail is cut off still continues to wiggle its way… But for one whose head has been cut off, or one who has been nailed on the cross, that’s the end for him.
Neighbor: But Peter, Andrew and Zebedee’s sons have seen him alive. It’s like God getting so furious with Pontius Pilate’s sentence that he said: “No way!” Then he took action and brought him back to life to embarrass those scoundrels who had him killed, do you understand?
Clete: Don’t you think Peter and his friends made up the story, neighbor…?
Neighbor: Well, I dunno, this is what they say, but… by the way, where are these rascals? Aren’t they here yet?
Bartholomew: Yeah, I’ve seen Philip and the red head, James… they’re just around….
We were all there, mingling with everyone. We never knew who spread the news that Jesus was going to appear in the mountain. Just in case, the eleven of us went, as well as the women…
John: What do you think of all this hassle, Peter?
Peter: I dunno, neither do I know what to tell you, John… There’s something strange here.
John: People keep on saying that Jesus is coming this time to say goodbye, since we’ll never see him again. Do you think this is true?
Peter: All I can say is there’s something odd here. Know why? The other times that we saw the Moreno, how shall I tell you… he was different…
Vendor: Candies, candies! Buy my candies with honey and cheese! Want to try some, countryman?
John: Not now, old man, later…
Peter: I dunno, John…. He was different… At least there were no candies for sale then…
The vendors, carrying their baskets on their heads, pushing their carts, shouted out a thousand wares, as the crowd multiplied all the time… Then a thin white cloud formed in the middle of the sky…
Old Woman: Look up, look up!! He’s coming!!
Several: He’s coming!! He’s coming!!
A Little Boy: Who’s coming, Mama?
Female Neighbor: Shut up, snotty-nose, just look above!
Male Neighbor: Hey, little lady, don’t push. I came here first!
Everyone had his eyes on the thin cloud that was slowly forming in the blue sky….
Bartholomew: Yes, now is the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel!
Female Neighbor: My goodness, that was long overdue! Ever since Abraham set foot on this earth, the poor like us had been waiting for justice, in vain!
Clete: And the story ended up there, since Jesus is now high above anyone else! See how he comes leaning on the cloud!
Girl: Now he’ll sit on the throne to reign, so they say!
Neighbor: And we’ll be by his side, don’t forget…
The thin cloud, pushed by a gentle breeze from the lake, was getting closer to the sun… then it disappeared like foam…
Clete: What now, old woman?
Old Woman: Don’t be impatient, my goodness! That was just the start of it!… The king is following from behind!
One hour passed, and another and another… The scorching sun, suspended in the middle of the sky, was burning our heads… But we stayed on, without budging, and waiting… Suddenly…
Old Woman: Look up, everybody look up! He’s coming!
Old Tilita once again raised her long and rugged arm like a branch of olive pointing at another cloud that was crossing the sky toward our direction…
Neighbor: Tighten your underwear, buddies, this thing about the Kingdom of God is really getting serious!
Some of the old folks began to pray… The excited women held their children closer to them, in anticipation of the great moment… Looking above, with their mouths agape, that sea of heads swayed from one side to the other, following the direction of the wind blown cloud…
But the second cloud had the same fate as the first. The blazing sun of Galilee had burned it and the blue mantle of the sky once again became completely cloudless and clear…
Old Woman: Don’t lose heart, my children. Noah had to wait longer inside his Ark for the floods to subside!
Clete: Well, a drop of water will do us some good!… How hot it is!! Look, my flesh is becoming flabby…. like melted wax!
Bartholomew: I’m taking a dip in the lake… I’ll be right back!
Old Woman: Don’t stray too far! Have faith, my brothers and sisters, don’t be discouraged! Jesus is coming soon, and this won’t be long!
Martin: Look up, look up!! Ho, ho, ho!
Neighbor: What’s got into him, huh?
Young Woman: He’s the crazy man, Martin…
Neighbor: Hey, you idiot, what’re you looking for? Get away from here, this is only for sane people…! How dare you make fun of Jesus, the Messiah!
Martin: I’m Jesus, I’m Jesus!!
Old Woman: Shut up, insolent one!… Your kind pisses me off, do you know that…?
Some time had passed… The men, who were dripping with sweat, started to tell jokes in order to kill time…. The women covered their heads with palm leaves as they fanned themselves with their scarves….
Clete: Damn this heat!
Vendor: Candies, candies! These are good candies, with honey and cheese, with cheese and honey!
Little Boy: Mama, I’m hungry, I want some candies!
Young Woman: Do you want me to wring your neck, little imp?
Little Boy: I want some candies!
Female Neighbor: Don’t scare your son, woman!… You know something? Children like him shall be the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, as Jesus clearly said that… Ay…!
Bartholomew: What’s happening to her now?
Old Man: Can’t you see? She’s fainted!
Young Woman: Get hold of her, get hold of her…!
Clete: She was saying something about the Messiah and… that’s it…. The poor woman is pregnant….
Young Woman: Give her some air…
Neighbor: Why does she have to be in this mess, knowing that she’s having a baby? How irresponsible…!
Old Woman: No, she’s not! She did right, because even the baby in the mother’s womb is crying out to see the miracle!
Clete: The only miracle here is that we haven’t melted until now!… Look how my head is burning hot.
Neighbor: Did you know that I skipped breakfast just to come here? I’m so hungry, my legs are trembling…. it beats David’s shaking while dancing before the Ark of Covenant…
Bartholomew: C’mon, folks, let’s go! No one’s coming up nor going down here!
Old Woman: Please don’t go away! Good things are worth some sacrifices, my goodness! Jesus said he was coming, and he’ll come!
Bartholomew: And I said I was leaving, and I am!
Old Woman: There he is!!! See where he’s heading for!
The old woman raised her arm again, pointing at a cloud, thick and round as cotton, appearing suddenly above our heads…
Male Neighbor: That’s right! This time around, he’s coming!
Female Neighbor: What about an applause, my friends! For the Messiah who’s coming to rule the world!
All: Long live the Messiah! Long live the Messiah!!!
Bartholomew: No, no….
Old Man: Hey, go kid somebody else, will you? I’m not in the mood for jokes now….
Neighbor: I’m breaking my neck looking up and down!… Goodbye to all!
Old Woman: I don’t understand what’s taking him so long…
Martin: There’s no one coming up nor down here! And nobody’s gone to work either!
Young Woman: Will you silence this idiot?
Clete: Leave him alone, he’s simply telling the truth… Imagine, we’ve been wasting our time looking up at the sky, for nothing….
Bartholomew: Do you know what time it is now?… It’s almost sunset already…. C’mon, let’s go….
Tired and weary, and with bowed heads, the people started dispersing down the hill of the Seven Fountains, toward the direction of the fishermen’s barrio and the marketplace, filling up the streets of Capernaum, on their way back home, as the sun buried itself once again in the Great Sea, by the end of the Carmel…. How long had it taken us to understand and make our countrymen understand that there was no need to look above us, but to our brother who was right beside us!
How much time had we spent scanning the skies just to see the coming of Jesus through the clouds, without realizing that from the time God had risen him from the dead, his Spirit had been filling the earth, that where two or three fight, suffer and wait, he is right in their midst!
How long had it taken us to understand that the Jesus, with whom we had eaten and drunk, had been named by God, Lord of heaven and earth, and raised above all the people of this world, had not gone away… On the contrary, he’d always remained with us, with the people, all days until the end of time!
If we consider the ascension of Jesus as the going up into the air of an extraordinary “astronaut” in a spectacular or marvellous act, or his departure from this world to be by the right side of the Father, or as a farewell after a completed mission on this earth, then we are distorting the whole theology of ascension.
The manifestations of the resurrected Jesus before his disciples and the first Christians (as in the case of his appearance to Paul: 1 Cor 15:8) were events of the most diverse kind, taking place for a long period of time, perhaps for several years. Nevertheless, the book of Acts deals with apparitions during forty days, saying that after this period, Jesus “ascended into heaven.” Number 40 is a symbolic number and this is how it appears throughout the Bible. Forty years are equivalent to one generation. That is why it is said that the people of Israel journeyed for forty years through the desert until they reached the Promised Land. This means that the pilgrimage lasted for “one generation.” The number 40 also indicates a long, traditional period. That is why, when one speaks of a reign that lasted for forty years, it means a period that left a mark, showing an epoch (2 S 5:4). Likewise, if a period of peace has lasted this long, it means it was a period of plenitude. To say that the risen Jesus appeared before his disciples for forty days signifies a sufficient or complete period, a period marked by very special characteristics. That during that time, (we will never know exactly its duration) the disciples of that first Christian generation experienced the living Jesus, felt his presence in the community in a unique manner. Their faith was strengthened with this experience, and since then their lives changed and they were led to following the way of Jesus. After these events, the Christian faith began to spread through Israel and the Mediterranean world.
Our faith tells us that Jesus is alive, that he is with us, fighting on our side. It is precisely this presence of Jesus which fills the world with the Spirit, directing human history toward a definitive triumph, that explains the meaning of the “mystery” of the ascension.
The evangelical texts, in giving a narrative framework to the ascension of Jesus, do not coincide with geographic information. Matthew situates the event in Galilee while Luke refers to it in Jerusalem. Mark does not specify any particular place. It deals with something that is totally secondary to the understanding of the theology of the ascension, since no event that can be localized or situated is described. After the resurrection, what Jesus had said to the Samaritan woman was completely fulfilled: Neither in Jerusalem nor in Gerizim, nor in any other temple shall we find God, because He is in those who live in the Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21-24). The resurrected Jesus, whom God made Lord and Messiah, opens the way for us to be able to live in the Spirit and in truth. Thus, the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit (Jesus Christ = Jesus the Messiah), continues to live in us and in the community, making us free, and teaching us the truth (Jn 14:15-17; 16:12-14).
The story of the ascension is full of theological symbols characteristic of those that are used in other manifestations of God throughout the entire Bible. Jesus ascends: the place where God dwells is always at “the top.” That Jesus ascends means, therefore, that God has raised that peasant from Nazareth to the distinction of Lord of history, so that what he himself had said might be fulfilled: “he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” A cloud conceals him from the sight of his disciples. In the entire Old Testament, the cloud accompanies all apparitions of God: in Sinai, across the desert… The cloud is God’s chariot, his tent. The Messiah will come through the clouds, and the day of the Lord shall be a cloudy one. In the gospel, the cloud also appears in the scene of the Tabor. This symbol shows the transcendence of the risen Jesus, in whom God reveals himself to us in a definitive manner. The last book of the Bible announces that Jesus shall come with the clouds at judgment time (Rev 1:7).
Angels likewise appear in the context of the ascension. In the Bible, angels are always harbingers of God’s important messages. This time, their message to the disciples, to the people of Capernaum, is of great importance. There is no need to look up to heaven (or the sky), for God is not in the heights. God is where Jesus is. And Jesus is where he had always been during his life: among the artisans of peace, among those who risk their lives for their brothers.
(Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:19-20; Lk 24:50-52; Acts 1:3-11)