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An Exercise in Boredom

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

How long does it take to form a habit—bad or otherwise? Most behavioral experts, according to Dr. Sangay Gupta
(CNN Medical Correspondent) says that a minimum of three weeks is about to get you hooked into a new habit and a much longer time to undo it. Forty days is more than enough time to have formed a new one. And 40 days after the Resurrection, a period of what many of us in our present day see as an exciting, we find Jesus eating (verse 4) with his disciples and talking about the Kingdom of God. Except for the fact that Jesus was crucified, died and resurrected, there was nothing unusual or even new with this scene. Jesus has always been talking about the Kingdom of God and he has always been eating with his disciples. The disciples could have actually been bored by this routine, they have been hearing him talk about the Kingdom since day one (Mark 1:14-15). 

The scene begins with Jesus giving instructions regarding the Holy Spirit. Something that he has been doing way before the crucifixion (John 14ff.) and immediately after (John 20:19ff.). We can imagine it going on again and again forty days later. The scene also describes him eating, something that would have been routine after 40 days. He was known to eat at every turn of events before the Cross and he has been doing so the moment he came back to life. He broke bread after the journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:30), then in the upper room with the eleven disciples (Luke 24:35) and then had grilled Tilapia by the Sea of Galilee maybe more than once (Luke 24:42-43 and John 21:12). Remembering that Acts is book two to the Gospel of Luke, we can read right at the start that without missing a beat Jesus continued his regular eating spree.

What is interesting was the disciple’s response: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). The same dumb response they have been giving for most parts of Jesus ministry. That response is almost in the same category of James and John’s request to sit at his left and right hand (Mark 10:35ff.). Was it impatience getting to them? Like it has been 40 days since the Resurrection, when are we taking over the world? Or was it simply the drudgery of boredom that disciples were no longer thinking at all, after all, they did seem to miss or even ignore what Jesus said about being baptized by the Holy Spirit “not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). They did not seem to get it, that the Holy Spirit is all about the Kingdom of God and not taking over the world.

That somehow irritated Jesus enough to digress and tell them that it is none of their business, but quickly returned to his emphasis on the Holy Spirit which we consider as the final valedictory statement of Jesus (“you will receive power….”), except that by now, this could very well have been his third or fourth of such “valedictory” speeches. In Matthew 28, there is the closing speech that we know as the “Great Commission,” in Mark 16 there is this speech about going into all the world, in Luke 24:46ff there is this abbreviated version of Acts 1:8 and then, in John 21 we find the more personal commissioning of Peter. He may have said something that sounded like these daily for the last 40 days.

Then He goes up and disappears into heaven—the momentous climax to everything. Or was it? Ever since the Resurrection, Jesus has been appearing and disappearing; appearing out of nowhere before Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb (Matthew 28:9), walking through walls to affirm Thomas (John 20:26), and popping into the scene on the road to Emmaus then disappearing after breaking the bread (Luke 24:15, 31). Again, he could have been doing something like that almost daily for the last 40 days. The Gospel writers did not write a daily diary of what Jesus said and did so we can only imagine what went on everyday. My guess is that after 40 days of habit-forming appearing and disappearing, going up into the sky was nothing new.

There is a sense that this story has been an ordinary event, as it is prefaced as just “one occasion” (Acts 1:6—NIV). The occasion was so routine and ordinary, that the disciples did not think too highly of this “one occasion” and that they may have been unaware that it would be the last time they would see Jesus for a long time. Luke’s preface about these instructions being given “until the day when he was taken up” (Acts 1:2) could very well be hindsight to a foregone conclusion.

This would explain a lot the disciple’s early attitude to Jesus coming again as very imminent. Not aware that this “one occasion” was the Ascension, they operated on the expectancy that Jesus would pop out of the woodwork at any moment as he had been doing. It seems that they thought this way even up to the time when Paul wrote his epistle to the Corinthians (about 50 A.D. or so) where one of his reasons for staying single was the imminence of Jesus coming again (1 Corinthians 7:31). The disciples were not really aware or even prepared for that departure—it was so ordinary with no fanfare or teary goodbyes, Jesus just left.

Then angels apparently popped up to declare:

“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts. 1:11).

It has been ingrained into our psyche that he will come back in a time of turmoil when evil is running amuck in this world, but that would instantly put Christians in an high alert mode and it is in those times that we hear of prophesies of Jesus coming again. But then, it can be demonstrated that evil is equally running amuck in this world by boring people to death, and just like when he left and caught the disciples unprepared, he will definitely come when we are not aware or prepared for him—we may just be surprised out of our wits. Waiting for Jesus involves mastering what to do in those moments when nothing seems to be happening and it is an exercise in boredom.

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