Rising to the occasion

There is an English saying of unknown origin: ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man.’ It refers to a situation where there seems to be no solution and then someone steps forward with a plan and the will to carry it out.

The English, in 1795, were in control of the French city of Toulon and the French were desperate to drive them out. A young corporal, aged about 25, in the French army approached his commanding officer with a plan and a request to implement it. At first, he was laughed at but gradually he was given the go-ahead. The English were driven out. The young man’s name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

A variation on the saying would be ‘rising to the occasion’ and it has a similar meaning: someone steps forward to solve a difficult situation. We know, because we have all had the experience; there are moments when we are called to put our hand up, or stand up and say or do something that may make us look foolish. We may have flinched often but there have been times when we have done it, we have risen to the occasion. And we have felt good about it. It is like we have got in touch for a moment with the best in ourselves. And maybe we have sensed, this is what it is to be human.

There is a moment in Luke’s gospel when Jesus is described as ‘setting his face towards Jerusalem.’

Now it happened that as the time drew near for him to be taken up, he resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

‘To be taken up’ refers, of course, to his Resurrection and Ascension. Coming down and being born in Bethlehem, where he ‘dwelt among us’, he lived his life showing us the way to rising with him to the fullness of human life. His rising and ascending symbolise the crowning human act. To get there he had to go to Jerusalem. That is where the great battle with evil and death would take place and he would ‘rise to the occasion’ for us.

We miss countless occasions ‘to rise’ because we are not yet fully like Jesus. But the celebration of the Ascension is a moment when we can earnestly ask for the courage to move beyond ourselves and rise to the occasion. Only today I was reading of our late Jesuit brother, Denis Adamson. He was one of those who stayed at St Paul’s Mission, Musami, during the Zimbabwe war of Liberation. He was stopped on the road on one occasion by a group of guerrillas who pointed guns at him and said, ‘you are now a prisoner of the ZANLA forces.’ It would be a frightening experience for anyone but Denis dropped some names of guerrilla commanders he knew and entered into lively conversation with the comrades. They all went to a nearby beerhall and the incident ended with comrades laying down their AK 47s and pushing the car so that it started. Not all of us would have had Denis’ courage but we might be surprised what we are capable of.

16 May 2021      Ascension         Acts 1:1-11             Eph 4:1-13                  Mk16:15-20

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