One of the things that police officers discover when interviewing witnesses to a crime is that even when those present agree on the basic reality of the event, their memory of the specific details may vary, even significantly — and all the more so months or years later when the case comes to trial.
Indeed, the lack of discrepancies could well be an indication of collusion to give false testimony. And while attorneys may employ the strategy of harping on these discrepancies in order to discredit witnesses and win the case for their side, those who seek the truth know to take a certain amount of inconsistent testimony in stride, knowing that it could in fact be evidence of authenticity.
And this is all the more true with the testimony of the Bible to the basic events of our salvation. Jesus remains on trial before a largely unbelieving world and while Satan often tries to use the minor discrepancies we find in the New Testament against us, we see that they are in fact proof of the authenticity of the testimony contained therein. And nowhere is this more evident than in the events surrounding Jesus' ascension into heaven.
In the Acts of the Apostles, which is a product of Luke's research (he was not himself an eyewitness, so this is hearsay testimony), we find Jesus gathered with his disciples in Jerusalem. Jesus commissions them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth and then "he was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight" from a location in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, in our Gospel, Matthew (who was an eyewitness) says the "disciples went to Galilee to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them." Jesus then commissioned them to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." And he added, "Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
Did you notice the discrepancy? Writing four decades after the event, there is confusion about whether it occurred in Jerusalem or in Galilee, though the Church gives more weight to Matthew's memory that it was in Galilee since he was an eyewitness while Luke was not. But actually, where it occurred is really beside the point.
What is important is the meaning of the event, which is clear in both accounts. By raising Jesus to heaven:
How do we do this? By taking everything we have — all our gifts of temperament, character and intellect; and all of our life experiences and all the lessons we have learned the hard way — and then enlightened and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received in confirmation, use every conceivable opportunity to draw others to Christ.
The first step is for us to remember how profoundly our own lives have been changed by our own experience of God's mercy. Think, perhaps, of the hardest confession you ever had to make and then how exhilarating it was to finally be set free and be given a fresh start, set free from that "ton of bricks" of bitter remorse that had so long been weighing down your soul.
The second step is, without necessarily going into details, to give witness to others about how much better your life is now — what Pope Francis calls "the joy of the Gospel" — now that you have been set free from the darkness of the sin and error that previously held you bound.
The third step is to share your experience of Jesus' ongoing, life-giving presence ever since, how he is now your constant companion, with whom you speak every day and whom you now seek to serve in all things.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily on the Ascension, May 21.
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