Being a Witness
In the first reading of today’s liturgy we are given the account of the brave witnessing to Christ of Stephen, which cost him his life. Stephen has the honor of being the first disciple and deacon to give his life for Christ For all his wonderful gifts by the Holy Spirit no one ever accused him of having the amenities of political correctness! "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you." Acts 7:51 It is little wonder that ", they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him".
The New Testament uses the word witness or martyr over 400 times to describe discipleship. It is a key word for understanding what it means to follow Christ. A witness is one who has firsthand information about an event or even an eyewitness. Any description of a follower of Christ would have to give serious attention to this New Testament Greek word "martyrion".
Briefly, there are three characteristics to this word. First I must have a personal relationship with Jesus like Peter and the Apostles. For us this relationship must take place in faith. Stephen is said to be "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit." Without a lively and loving association with the living Christ we can hardly ever give adequate witness to Him. This involvement with Jesus is principally experienced in an intense prayer life.
The second observation is that we must speak up for Christ with the same sincerity as Stephean did. Admittedly, we might think of using a bit more tact than Stephen. However the tact must never belie the truth that Christ is everything to us! "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." John 6:35 Life without Jesus is a horrendous loss! The popular opinion today that a watered down morality is enough to satisfy the human heart is totally unbiblical! Zeal for the propagation of the faith is becoming a lost virtue in the country.
The third observation is that there is no witness protection program. We see Stephen had to pay dearly for his witnessing to Jesus. In a sense if there is no pain in the proclamation of the Gospel we probably are failing in our message! If we want to be comfortable in the world it would not be a very good idea to take up preaching. "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!" Luke 6:22
Fr. Bob Weiss, C.P. preaches Parish Missions and is a member of the Passionist Community in Louisville, Kentucky.