Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter
You are witnesses of these things.
A witness: it is one of the most important titles that was given to the first Christians and which continues to be given to us. Witnesses testify to what they have seen and what they have heard. They give testimony.
John’s Gospel and letters speak often of the testimony of both Christ himself and of his followers. Jesus tells his followers that he testifies to the truth, that he testifies to the will of the Father, to what he has seen and heard. And those who follow him, Jesus taught, continue this same activity – they are witnesses, they testify to what they have seen and heard, they testify to the truth.
It is interesting that in Greek the word for testimony and for witness are the same in origin: martyrion. Martyr has now come to mean one who gives the life for the faith, but the origin of the word was not so bloody – one who gives testimony, one who is a witness to the faith.
And after the empty tomb, after the road to Emmaus, Jesus begins to make clear to his disciples, and therefore to us, that we are to be these martyrs, these witnesses. Most of us are not martyrs by blood – our witness need not cost so much. But we are all called to the same faithfulness in our witness.
It is a testimony that must continue in every age, in every place until the Lord comes again – we continue the very testimony of Christ himself about God’s loving plan of salvation. We are called to be witnesses to his love, to embody in our lives, in our choices, a clear testimony to God’s life within us. A clear testimony to the risen Christ whose salvation has transformed and redeemed and continues to redeem.
How easy it is to forget, I think – that we are on the stand. That others look to us. Being Christian is a public stance, a public position. The world looks at us, we are – all of us – in the court of public opinion. It might be harder for someone who wears a collar around his neck to forget that, but the truth is no less real for any of us. In fact, I wish every Christian had the opportunity to be so aware of their public witness. You know, it makes you think twice before you start speeding around or cut someone off. Or when someone asks you for money. Or if you’re tempted to get some expensive thing you don’t need. It’s a bit of a check: “Wait - I’m a priest, I better think about the witness I’m giving here.” But that should be something we all say to ourselves on a regular basis: “Wait, I’m a Christian, I’m a Catholic, I better think about the witness I’m giving here.”
Because whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we represent Christ in our world. We are his witnesses. We testify to the truth of his teaching by the way that we live our lives.
And so when we do good, it is not only for our own salvation, our own benefit. It is testimony, it is a witness to our faith and to the life of Christ that dwells within us. And when we fail, we not only damage our relationship with God, we become false witnesses and compromise the credibility of the Gospel in our world.
It is humbling and sobering to realize that much of the credibility of Christ’s teaching rests on our witness, our testimony. He has chosen us, he has sent us here, to Bangor Maine, to be his witnesses. To testify through our choices to the truth of God’s redemption and salvation at work in the world.
May God help us to be good and faithful witnesses. Not so much within these walls where it is fairly easy, but in our homes, in our workplaces, in our community. In a world that hungers and thirsts for Christ’s redemption, that wants to believe it is possible, but that needs faithful witnesses in order to be convinced of the truth.