Flip It Upside Down
A few years ago, when I was teaching high school, I went into the art classroom one day with a question for the art teacher. I waited off to the side as she worked with a student who was frustrated about a part of her painting that just didn’t seem to be coming together for her. After talking it over for a few moments, the teacher lifted the canvas from the easel, flipped it end for end, and put it back down so that the image was now upside down. They studied it together for a moment, and suddenly, the student’s frown disappeared, and she said “I’ve got it.” She picked up her brush, and returned to her work with a new intensity.
I was astounded. How on earth did that make a difference? “She’s been standing in front of that painting for three weeks,” her teacher explained. “It’s so familiar to her that she’s stuck in the way she sees it and thinks about it. But as soon as it was flipped upside down, she knew exactly what to do because she saw it in a new way.”
What does this have to do with the gospel for Ascension Sunday (Mt 28.16-20)? For many of us, we’ve heard this gospel so often that sometimes we get stuck in the way we think about it, too. So, what happens if we try the same approach and flip it on its head, reading it from the end?
When we do, we the first thing we hear is the promise that Jesus is with us, always. This kind of changes the tone of things, doesn’t it? Instead of a list of tasks with a parting “Don’t worry, you’ve got this,” at the end, everything the disciples are asked to do begins with Jesus. As it should be. As Christian disciples, Jesus isn’t an afterthought. He’s the reason for what they do in the first place.
Neat, huh? Let’s keep reading.
Then the disciples are called to teach people. Teach them about what? About love, peace, patience, gentleness, mercy, compassion, generosity, and about the Kingdom of God, where these qualities are woven into its very ethos. They’re called to teach others about acting justly, about reaching out to the marginalized, about caring for the poor and the voiceless, about giving their time, talents, and treasure to the building of that Kingdom. And they’re to teach about Jesus, the King himself, who lived those very same qualities and died for doing those very same things.
They’re called to baptize people. They are called to receive others into the Body of Christ, the ruler of that same Kingdom, who leads by example. They’re called to accept every person into the very heart of the family, to embrace and welcome them in such a way that every last one of them knows, deep down, that they are a beloved child of God.
They’re called to make disciples. The disciples’ own relationship with Jesus, their identity as God’s children, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that will come to them on Pentecost will give them not only the motivation but the very capability of inspiring others to follow Jesus Christ. Welcome them in, and give them every reason to stay and get excited, themselves. Disciples make disciples.
And they’re told to GO. They can’t teach people, baptize them, and make them disciples out of them if they stay put. This calling from Jesus, this vocation, means that they have to follow his example by being – and bringing – the Good News to everyone. Everyone. To the people who are considered unwelcome in the community. To the disinterested. To those who have been failed by others. To those who have failed others, themselves. Not a single person gets left out. Not one.
But the best part about reading this story backward is that it paints, very clearly, a picture of our own vocations. You see, at the very beginning of the scripture passage, it says “the eleven disciples went to Galilee…” But if you keep reading further backwards in this gospel, you’ll find that there are usually twelve disciples mentioned. That means there is a space for us in this calling. We’ve been given the same job: teach, baptize, make disciples, and do it by going out to the world. Because we, ourselves, are the twelfth disciple.
Sometimes, the best sources of clarity and insight come from a painting that gets flipped upside down.
By Darcie Lich
Vocation Team – Oblate Associate