The following reflection, written by Sr. Melinda Roper, was printed in A Maryknoll Liturgical Year: Reflections on the Readings for Year B, published by Orbis Books.
Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. – Mark 16:15
Alejandro was buried today. He was 45 and is survived by his wife Selmira and their three children, as well as by his parents Nina and Chente, a large extended family and many friends – all survivors who migrated to a tropical resettlement area because the land of their small farms had become unproductive due to generations of slash-and-burn agriculture.
Their new land was productive but the work with machete and ax was overwhelming. Propaganda for the use of agrochemicals with slogans such as “cero labranza” (zero labor), were very attractive to this hardworking families who wanted to do more than survive. Alejandro died of stomach cancer caused, the doctors say, from working with these toxic sprays. Among youth it has become competitively macho to spray fields day after day without protective masks, shirts or boots. Statistics of deaths caused by agrochemicals are hard to come by. Some in the family believe that he had been cursed by someone with demonic power; others believe that if they only had more money he could have been cured; others that it was mysteriously God’s will. Each of these explanations of why Alejandro died represents a worldview that is operative today and forms part of the cultural shifts and transitions we are experiencing. These views frequently cause conflict within society, the family and within the individual.
Given that today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of Jesus, we ask how are faith can enlighten the experience of Alejandro and his family and its significance for our moment. I suggest three aspects for deeper reflection:
1. In the first reading from Acts we have a dramatic and visual presentation of the Ascension. The tension between Jesus and his friends is uncomfortable so they ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Perhaps the question pained Jesus. Could it be that after all his teaching and formation about the reign of God plus his living example of how this reign is actually present, that they expected some sort of social, political, religious restoration of the way things used to be? He abruptly says, “It is not for you to know…”
2. Even though Jesus realizes that they don’t understand he gives them a task, a mission: to be his witnesses. This power to witness comes not from political or religious institutions but from the Holy Spirit and their trust in the Spirit. Then without any more words Jesus exits dramatically by being “lifted up, and a cloud took him out of sight.” The two white robed persons ask Jesus’ friends, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Are they saying don’t look up, look towards each other? What are our expectations of the reign of God? What role do our current religious, social, political and economic institutions and systems play in God’s reign?
3. In the reading from Mark we hear a version of this commission which says: “Go into all the whole world and proclaim good news to the whole creation.” In contrast Matthew tells us to preach to all the nations which are human constructs. To preach to the whole creation situates our mission beyond ourselves and the human community to the whole community of life: to animals, earth, water and air.
The struggle to survive of the small farmer today is played out on the world stage of agro-industry, inherent poverty, technological consumerism, and dying cultural myths. Some of these operative cultural myths are the supremacy of the human community to use and exploit the Earth’s resources for our own convenience because it is inherently our right; that the quality of life is determined primarily by material progress and by financial success; the strongest and the smartest have the right to exploit those who are poor or weak – children, women, the elderly – simply because they have the power to do so. In light of all of these Jesus offers another way to live, to create the new cultures that are part of our mission today. Jesus ascended and leaves us our mission: our mission to all of creation, which is to preach and to heal with an all-inclusive integrity and wisdom that flow through our trust in God’s Spirit: Presente!