(Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/4XxBfO_l4e8)
36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”
What does it mean to be a witness? Our gospel reading assigned for this week closes with Jesus reminding his disciples what was written in scripture about the Messiah suffering and rising from the dead three days later. Jesus sent the disciples out into world as “witnesses of these things,” as witnesses of his suffering and resurrection, and they were to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations because they were witnesses. So to be a witness means more than simply seeing or hearing an event firsthand. It means acting on what has been seen and heard. The disciples saw what they saw, heard what they heard, for a reason and that reason was to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins. The glory of God was revealed to them for the purpose of helping others reclaim a proper relationship with God. Witnessing doesn’t benefit the witnesser. Witnessing benefits those who haven’t seen or heard. Witnessing has a purpose!
Our readings assigned for this week all have the common theme of witnessing. Christ died and rose from the dead three days and everyone who saw and heard these events were considered witnesses. What did it mean for them to be considered witnesses? What does it mean for US to be considered witnesses? Yes, we weren’t at the actual events of Jesus’ death and resurrection but that doesn’t mean we are aren’t witnesses. We are different kinds of witnesses. We are witnesses of the resurrected Christ. So asking the question, “What does it mean to be a witness?” is just as relevant to us as it was for the early Christian followers. We, too, must ask ourselves what it means to be witnesses to the resurrected Christ. So what exactly does it mean to be a witness?
Before we explore what our readings suggest, perhaps it’s helpful to hear what it means NOT to be a witness. Or more accurately, what it means to be a bad witness. Though I’m not a big fan of blond jokes, there is a particularly relevant joke about a blonde who was summoned to court to appear as a witness in a lawsuit. The prosecutor opened his questioning with, “Where were you the night of August 24th?” “Objection!” said the defense attorney. “Irrelevant!” “Oh, that’s okay,” said the blonde from the witness stand. “I don’t mind answering the question.” “I object!” the defense said again. “No, really,” said the blonde. “I’ll answer.” The judge ruled: “If the witness insists on answering, there is no reason for the defense to object.” So the prosecutor repeated the question: “Where were you the night of August 24th?” The blonde replied brightly, “I don’t know.”
Yes, it’s a terrible joke with its insinuation about the presumed absent-mindedness of blondes. But it brings to mind those witnesses who DO know where they were on the night they were questioned about. They hide behind the lie, “I don’t know.” In fact, they DO know but they don’t want to share the information for fear that it might incriminate themselves. Witnesses who claim they don’t know what they’ve witnessed are failing to do what Jesus tells his disciples to do. They’re failing to act on what they’ve seen or heard. Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be bad witnesses and fail to act on what they seen and heard. He told them exactly how they were to act: proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sin to all people in his name. Bad witnesses fail to act or act inappropriately as seen by the blond witness. So, again, what does it mean to be a witness?
In our 1st reading from Acts, we heard Peter speaking to group of Jews in the temple. They had witnessed firsthand the death of Jesus. Indeed, they had had a contributing part in Jesus’ death as Peter cried out, “But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” To be a witness means to recognize and acknowledge cold, hard truths about events and situations. Similar to witnesses who claim “I don’t know” when asked about their witness, the Jews tried to deny their witness, their true witness. True witness sometimes implicates those who witness. Genuine witness can be risky for anyone involved. The people in the crowd needed to acknowledge their true witness, their implicated witness, and Peter was helping them do that. Peter wasn’t any less of an implicated witness than they were. Peter was also a Jew and Peter had also denied his witness…three times! Who better than Peter to inspire witnesses to speak up about their true witness! Peter teaches us that witnessing involves risk. Witnessing involves speaking truth no matter what the effects are.
In our 2nd reading, we heard John offer words of encouragement for our own witness. We need to hear of the love the Father has for us and how we are considered children of God. This is because witnessing to the risen Christ is so risky. The world is full of sin and it doesn’t want to acknowledge someone freed from the bondage of sin. When we proclaim the risen Christ, to the truth that Christ conquered sin and death, we don’t know what the effects will be. We don’t know if we’ll be laughed at or welcomed. The world so desperately needs the risen Christ yet it doesn’t know what to do with him. The world wants to believe there’s a way out of slavery to sin and death but it doesn’t really want it. Slavery clearly defines who the master is and who the slave is…who has the power and who doesn’t have the power. Sin and death are powerful masters that would love to get ahold of our lives and guide them. But Jesus is more powerful than both sin and death. Jesus handily conquers sin and death through love. Love, the same love the Father has for us, the same love the Father has for the Son, is stronger than both sin and death! Love is what holds this world together and that is not an easy task. Sin and death are eager to consume this world. But love…love builds and sustains this world.
To be a witness means to enter into the love of the world. To be a witness means to be a channel for God’s love to flow into the world. To be a witness means to share truth despite the consequences. Witnessing involves action. We can’t simply behold the glory of God’s love and not act on it. We can’t be like the blonde, stating “I don’t know” about God’s love. We DO know about it! We have seen it on the cross! Love is an active word! We have witnessed God’s love on the cross so that we might act on it not just marvel at it. We must enter into the activity of God’s love through our true witness. Let us enter into this activity knowing what it means…to be a witness.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.