This reflection is for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B, 4/15/2018.
I have always loved, and still love, audience participation! I try my best as a teacher to get my students involved through call and response opportunities. At the military academy I give the command, “Ears!” to which my students respond, “Open!” or after counting backward from 20 I say, “Zerooooo!” to which they respond, “Freeze recruit, freeze!” All day long I engage my students’ eyes, ears, body, and mind by inviting them to respond in some appropriate way that I have taught them. Not only is it helpful to get my students’ full, undivided attention, but also makes the day a lot more fun for everyone!
Of course, this concept of audience participation is not new to Christianity either. St. Augustine was said to be a particularly fiery preacher who expected his audience to respond with “booooes” or cheers that were appropriate to his message. The Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Divine Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium, invites the faithful to, full, active, conscience participation in the liturgy. I don’t think we’ve even begun yet to realize their hopes for active engagement in our liturgies–mind, body, and soul!
I love listening to black preachers (I’m thinking of Southern Baptist, white shirt and tie, drenched in sweat and holding up a Bible!) who effectively call on their audience to provide a witness to the truthfulness of what is being said. “Can I get a witnessss-uh!” to which the faithful respond, “Amen! Preach it!”
Today’s Gospel has Jesus saying, “Can I get a witness?” What exactly is a witness, and why do they matter so much? Eye witness testimony is by far the most powerful testimony in a courtroom, on the playground, or in the workplace. Always the most weight is given to the person who is able to say, “I was there! I saw the whole thing!” Even for as much as psychologists (and hopeful defense attorneys) have tried to discredit eye witness testimony as unreliable, their attempts have largely gone unheard. When the story is too shocking to believe. When it seems preposterous and we just can’t believe our ears, we ALWAYS need someone to step up and say, “I was there! It’s true.” If you were there, you’ve got the trump card. That’s the power of the eye witness.
As we journey through the Easter season, we notice the importance that the Gospel writers place on being a witness, and the Sunday readings emphasize the significance of the eye witness testimony and the importance of faith in what they proclaimed as true.
Last week Thomas wasn’t there and refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection in spite of testimony from the rest of the apostles. And then Jesus meets him and invites him to believe because of his own experience with Jesus. Others said it was true (I would say that their testimony opened him up to the possibility, then he experienced the risen Jesus himself, and His encounter with Jesus changed him.
Thomas wasn’t even willing to believe Jesus was alive, and then, according to Tradition, he died for Him–being run through with a spear for giving testimony to Jesus in India! In fact, everyone of Jesus’ apostles went to their death giving witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection! The New Testament word “witness” comes from the Greek word for martyr. (Greek: μάρτυς, mártys, “witness“; stem μάρτυρ-, mártyr-). Those who courageously gave their life for Jesus were martyred and their martyrdom stood as a witness to their belief in Jesus resurrection!
That’s amazing testimony to the truth of the resurrection! Who would die for something they knew wasn’t even true?! At some point you just laugh and say, “Ha. Ha. You got me! Just kidding!” but they did not. In fact, the book of Acts shows the disciples courageously speaking in the name of Jesus, even when they were told to be quiet and threatened with death. They said, “How can we be silent about the things we’ve seen and heard?” (Acts 4:20)
Jesus is today–no less than then–looking for disciples to bear witness with their whole life that He is real and He is risen. During this Easter season we ought to be particularly mindful to what degree our life stands out in our world as a witness to Jesus. In the way that we talk to and about others. In the way we are generous, kind, and life-giving in our actions. And especially in the way we make Jesus Christ and the community he founded a priority.
Do we study the Scriptures? Do we pray before meals, at bed time with our kids, in the car, or even at work? Do we attend Mass regularly and make it the most important day of our week? Do we actively seek out opportunities to volunteer our time, talent, and treasure to serve those in need locally and abroad? Do we take the time to read the pope’s messages, and the US Bishops teachings? Pope Francis just released his Apostolic Exhortation on The Call to Holiness. Will you read it by clicking HERE?
Jesus probably isn’t asking any of us to be a martyr today, but he is asking us to die to ourself and live for Him. He’s giving out the call today and still looking for a response. He seeking your response to be of your whole body, mind, and soul. He’s sending out the call, are you up to giving the response? In other words, “I say-uh, yezzzz-uh! Can He get a witnesssss-uh?”
And, can I get a witness? If you’re doing something great post it here! Share these posts with people you know. I’d love to hear about it! Inspire us to also die with Him!
Happy Easter! Stephen