May 14, 2018
Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. The following is a homily I delivered on that feast day in 2014:
One early August day, my dad called for me to come out to the garage. I can’t remember for sure, but I think I was around 7 or 8 years old.
Half of the garage had been completely emptied out and there was plastic spread out on the floor. A metal pan, a roller, and a brush sat next to an open can of paint.
My dad handed me the roller and said, “You do this wall. I’ll start over here.”
That’s it. That was the extent of my instructions.
It is important to note that I had never held a paint roller in my hand before that day. My previous painting experience included finger-painting in kindergarten and a paint-by-number book I got for First Communion.
My dad was a Marine, so the thought of questioning a direct order never crossed my mind. So I just stared at the wall and tried to decipher his somewhat vague painting instructions: “You do this wall.”
I wondered if Dad had me confused with one of my three older brothers. I’m certain each of them had more painting experience than me. That happened with six kids in the house; Dad got us mixed up sometimes.
I stared at the wall a little longer. I was considering all of my options when Dad stopped his own painting and asked, “Is there a problem?”
“I don’t know how to paint,” I told him. I put down the roller, assuming he would come to his senses and remember I was just a little kid.
“Sure you do,” he said. “Remember last summer when I painted the living room and you asked if you could watch?”
I did remember that.
Then he said, “I told you it was OK to watch. I also told you to watch carefully, because some day you would need to paint something yourself. Do you remember that?
I did remember that.
“Today is that day,” he said. Then he went back to work.
I picked up the roller again and stared at the wall some more. I must have stared too long because Dad finally said, “The wall isn’t going to paint itself – get busy!”
As I reflected on today’s scripture, I was reminded of my first painting experience. In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the two men in white garments asked the apostles, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
The scripture passage stops before we get to hear the response from the apostles. I’m sure they didn’t actually say this, but I bet they were thinking something like this: “Why are we standing here looking at the sky? Because one minute we were talking to Jesus and the next minute He was lifted up in a cloud and taken from our sight. We have no idea what to do next.”
However, Jesus had given the apostles explicit instructions immediately before ascending. We heard those instructions in Mark’s Gospel: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” He had told them, in very precise language, what to do next.
The men in white garments shared a sense of urgency on Jesus’ behalf. What they were really saying was, “Don’t just stand there staring at the sky – get busy!” Or as my Dad might have said, “The world isn’t going to proclaim the gospel to itself!”
It is not the first time we have heard such urgency from Jesus.
After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was standing outside the tomb, mourning the loss of her friend and Lord. Suddenly, she realized that the person she thought was a gardener was actually the risen Jesus. She was overwhelmed and frozen in her tracks. She was unsure of what to do next.
Jesus would have none of that. He said to her, “Stop holding on to me!” He didn’t want her to get caught up in the event, but rather to focus on the work at hand. He wanted her to get busy.
Whether you’re an inexperienced painter, one of the first apostles, or a close friend of Jesus, the message from Him is the same – “Get busy! Go about my work.”
Here’s the problem: As much as we want to obey Jesus’ command to “proclaim the gospel to every creature,” the task can seem overwhelming.
I had watched Dad paint. He had told me to watch carefully because I was going to need to paint some day. But the thought of actually doing it left me staring at the wall.
The apostles had watched Jesus in His ministry. He had told them to watch and learn because they were going to need to spread the Gospel some day. But the thought of actually doing it left them staring at the sky.
We know our time is coming to do the work, but when it is actually in front of us, we feel unprepared. The sense of responsibility can be overwhelming.
Instead of drawing on the lessons we’ve learned, our tendency is to dwell on the reasons that we cannot accomplish the task at hand: we’re too young or too old, too inexperienced, too busy, or maybe…too scared.
And when it comes to God’s work? We do not feel worthy; we’re not holy enough; or we’re not comfortable sharing our faith with others.
In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, he tries to give us the courage to stop staring and get busy. In his pep talk, Paul wrote: “…grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
Everyone has something to contribute. Someone spreads out the plastic, someone buys the paint, someone pours it in the pan, someone rolls the paint onto the wall.
We have all been given what we need to do the work of God, “each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
We have not been asked to do anything we are not capable of doing.
We have a service hours requirement at school. We asked each of our seniors to write a reflection on his or her four years of service.
One senior wrote: “I have realized that changing the whole world may be impossible for just one person, but I am fully capable of changing SOMEONE’S world, and that’s all that really matters.”
I can’t proclaim the gospel to every creature on my own, but I can do my share.
I may not be able to paint the entire wall on my own, but every stroke of my paintbrush makes a difference.
So don’t just stand there; the wall isn’t going to paint itself.