The search for truth and the need for truthful communication is an absolute, basic human need. We are taught from earliest childhood to tell the truth. We grow up expecting that people around us speak truth to us: parents, teachers, clergy, doctors, elected leaders. Then we discover that truth is a rather rare commodity and that it is easily hidden or compromised. We ourselves can find it difficult to say exactly what we think and feel. We don't want to offend; we don't want to get involved; we don't want to take sides.
But the mandate given the disciples at the Ascension tells us that it is indeed imperative to take sides.
Jesus left his followers with a mission that would provide the impetus for all they were to do - to take the knowledge of salvation to the entire world. This is no small task. This mission provides focus and meaning for our existence. It is only by staying focused on the mission that we remain alert, open to the gift of the Spirit and ready to fulfill the vision of the reign of God. Very often this will require difficult choices that may put us at odds with others.
There are implications in the prayer of Jesus that focus very strongly on how we see ourselves as part of God's plan. "Father, keep them in your name that they may be one as we are one." Whenever we who claim to be his followers fail in any way to be fully one with each other, we jeopardize the credibility of the Gospel.
If we remain silent in face of injustice, then our truth is false. If our commitment to unity is half-hearted, or if our faith communities are not totally inclusive, in every way, we fall short of the ideal that Jesus insists must be the hallmark of the people of God. Intolerance is a sign both of arrogance and ignorance, for it is a sign that a person believes that there is no truth beyond the truth they see.
As we read the Gospels and relive the mystery of the Spirit in our daily lives, we must change all of the verbs from the past tense to the present. The Ascension story is a mission given to us. Pentecost is our rebirth in the Spirit. The original fire of the Gospel must burn in us. This gift must bring excitement, passion, and courage to us. We must shake off complacency, intolerance, and indifference. The Spirit must become our strength, our light, our hope, and our joy. It must become the driving force for all activity.
There is clarity in Jesus' final prayer for his disciples. He prays for four things - unity, joy, holiness, and mission; "Father - keep them safe, keep them united ('that they may be one'), keep them joyful ('that they may have my joy'), keep them consecrated ('sanctify them in the truth'), keep them mobilized for the mission ('so I have sent them into the world')."
This prayer is also meant for us, but not that we might find a way to escape the world with all its pains and complexities. Rather, he prays because we must stay in the world and need to be kept safe and faithful to the task of proclaiming his word to an often unresponsive and sometimes hostile world. Jesus' prayer for believers wasn't just for those around the table at the Last Supper or for those who gathered to witness the Ascension. He prays that our lives give witness to the love God has for us. That love is given us to share in the community of believers so that we will be a sign for the world and draw others to the God we have come to know in Christ.
When all is said and done, a community of faith is not judged by its doctrines and beliefs, but by the kind of people it produces and the truth it speaks.