‘When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). The Bible speaks of three ways in which Jesus is “lifted up:” in his death on the cross, in his resurrection, and in his ascension. This Sunday, we focus on the third “lifting up” of Jesus, his ascension into heaven. Our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, describes Jesus being “lifted up” and our gospel, from Mark, says that Jesus was “taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” Paul’s letter to the Ephesians tells us that God “raised up Jesus from the dead and made him to sit at his right hand, in heaven, far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power or Domination, or any other name that can be named, not only in this age, but in the age to come” (1:20-21). “He has put all things under his feet, and made him as the ruler of everything, head of the Church,” Paul goes on to say in the very next verse.
So on this day, we not only celebrate the finish of Jesus’ earthly life and his return to the Father, but we also celebrate his exaltation: the fact that, in his risen and ascended humanity, Jesus has been “lifted up ” and given the name “which is high above all other names, so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus, and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). There is no scope here for saying that Jesus was a good man, but only on the level of other “good men”, such as Mohammad, or Buddha, or Socrates, or Gandhi. In fact, St Pope John Paul II, in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, states clearly that Jesus Christ “is not on the same level as a Mohammed, or a Buddha or a Socrates, but is totally unique and original.” Neither Mohammed, nor Buddha, nor Socrates, ever died for the forgiveness of sins of the whole world. Neither were they ever raised from the dead into a totally new life which they then imparted to their followers. Nor were any of them raised up into heaven and seated at the right hand of God. With reason, Peter affirms in the Acts of the Apostles that “of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved.” (4: 12).
To affirm that Jesus is the unique Savior of humanity, that He alone is Lord of all creation, and that in Him alone, are we given the hope of eternal life, is to “lift Jesus up” in a fourth way, one in which we continue to “exalt” Jesus and to be His witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).