We know what a witness is from TV shows. Old Timers might remember Sargent Joe Friday of Dragnet fame who wanted “Just the facts, Ma’am,” when interviewing a witness. Perry Mason would grill a witness by asking “Where were you on the night in question?” ABC Channel 7 presents what they call “eyewitness news” where they put a microphone in the face of someone whose house just burned down to ask how they are feeling. (How do you think I’m feeling!) A witness, therefore, is someone who has seen something or experienced something and can then talk about it with some assurance and credibility.
Bearing witness is a major theme during the fifty days of Easter. The first reading in this season is not taken from the Old Testament as is customary during the rest of the year but from the Acts of the Apostles. The Church does this so that we will understand that the Resurrection of Jesus transformed not just Jesus but his followers as well. Jesus, of course, moved from death to life, from tragedy to triumph, from the cross to a crown. No longer simply the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee Jesus was seen as the Risen Lord, the conqueror of sin and death, the Savior of the World. But the resurrection changed the disciples as well. Those who were confused and fearful, who were capable of denying, abandoning and betraying him, the resurrection of Jesus transformed into bold proclaimers of the good news, bringing a message of hope and joy into a hurting world. The key word in the Acts of the Apostles that comes up again and again to describe the new reality of Jesus’ disciples: witness. The last words Jesus addressed to them before he ascended into heaven: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Of course it was not just those first disciples who are supposed to be witnesses of Jesus but all of us. As people of faith we have all experienced something. How are we called to be witnesses in the providence of our daily life?
The first way we witness is by how we live. We as the followers of Jesus have a different set of values than society at large. Our actions, our behaviors bear witness to what following Jesus means to us. Instead of having the most we believe in loving the most. Instead of resentment, we believe in forgiveness. Instead of getting ahead we believe in blooming where you are planted. Instead of wealth we believe in generosity. When people wonder about why we act as we do we are bearing witness to Christ who is planted in our hearts. In the play The Man of LaMancha, one song questions the behavior of Don Quixote: “Why does he do the things he does? Why does he do these things? Why does he batter at walls that won’t break? Why does he give when it’s natural to take? Where does he see all the good he can see, and what does he want of me?” His behavior makes them look at themselves. That is how we are bearing witness – when people can see how our faith in Jesus transforms our lives and fills us with joy.
The second way we bear witness to Jesus is by sharing life together as Church. In a world holding up the Lone Ranger, Dirty Harry, John Wayne as an ideal we demonstrate that being in community makes us better human beings. According to the earliest records we have the pagans in ancient Rome were attracted to the faith because of the kind of community they saw among the Christians. “Look how those Christians love one another,” they would say. Maybe one of the reasons for the drying up of the faith today is that people don’t see the love. We here at St. James can bear witness to our faith in Jesus by showing to one other the kindness, care, compassion, concern that flows out of following Jesus. Then people will want to have what we have. One day the monks were awakened by a loud banging on the door. When they answered a man from the village said, “Give me the stone, Give me the precious stone.” When they asked what he was talking about he said, “I had a dream that the monastery had a stone which would make me rich beyond my wildest dreams.” You mean this one, as they handed to him the largest diamond the man had ever seen. We don’t need it. You can have it. He took the diamond and walked away. The next day he came back to the monastery. We don’t have anything else to give you, the monks said. Give me what you have that makes it so easy for you to give the diamond away. We bear witness to our treasure by showing our faith in Jesus brings us together
Another way of bearing witness happens when we tell our story about what Jesus has done for us and in us. When we tell our story with all its ups and downs people will recognize that what Jesus has done for us, he can do for them. If you’ve ever been to a 12-step meeting you recognize the process. One of those attending will tell how coming to rely on their higher power enabled them to overcome the deadly spiral they had gotten caught up in. No preaching, no need to argue – Just telling the story works to create an awareness in others about how a new way of living is possible. Notice that no one at a 12-step meeting has the answers. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is at a different stage on the journey. But by telling my story and listening to yours we learn the manifold ways that God is at work. Bearing witness requires no training or education. All that is required is a heart willing to share what God can do with the likes of me. It is something anyone can do – even me, even you.