15 February 2015

What sort of witness are you?

6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

What sort of witness is the Lord teaching us to be?

Jesus is spending a great deal of time healing the sick, preaching to the crowds, teaching his favored disciples, driving out demons. And he is spending a great deal of time telling people to be quiet about who he is and what he's doing. Remarkably so, among the first to bear witness to Jesus’ divine Sonship are the demons, the unclean spirits who bellow out his identity: “We know who you are: the Holy One of God!” Jesus silences them with a word. The men and women who Jesus makes new with his healing touch also bear witness to who he is. And he sternly orders them to silence as well. For all the good it does! What sort of witnesses does the Lord want us to be?

Jesus seems to want to show us who he really is and at the same time he seems restrained by a need for secrecy, for silence. Let me suggest that the reason for this terrible tension is prophetic, that is, the tension is there so that it might be played out in our witness NOW, played out in the charge we have been given to be the prophetic bearers of the Word, voices for the Good News in the world.

Think about it: if Jesus had come to us like a Lord of the Rings Wizard, throwing fireballs, casting spells, riding giant eagles to fight the demons, we would have had a fantastic show, a brilliant demonstration of raw, unearthly power. But don’t you think that this sort of theater would have to be repeated again and again? Repeated to the point that it became nothing but a show? What Jesus is trying to teach us—the Good News of our salvation—would be so easily overshadowed by the spectacular special effects of the show. What would we see? The Christ dying for our eternal life? Or some sort of weird version of David Copperfield, dying horribly on the cross, and then snapping back to life and inviting us back to see the ten o’clock show?

Or, if he had come to us as a staid philosophy professor. With tweed jacket, pipe, bad graying comb-over, Jesus gathers a crowd of over-educated, middle-class egghead wanna-bes and spends one afternoon a week expounding on the Christological taxonomies of the Hebrew prophetic witness and deconstructing the meta-narrative prejudices of a bourgeois modernist cultural hegemony that insists taxonomies adequately sign “reality.” But don’t you think that this sort of theater would have to be repeated again and again? What Jesus is trying to teach—the Good News of our salvation—would be so easily smothered by pretentious academic jargon, and the always-present temptation in intellectual circles to make it all just about symbol or just about history or just about myth. Who Jesus is for us gets lost. . .

(We turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill us with the joy of salvation.)

Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s gospel looks confused because Jesus doesn’t want us to see him as a magician, a wizard out to build a fan base. He doesn’t want us to see him as a philosopher in the classical Greek tradition, a man of High Reason, logic, and impeccable pagan virtue. Jesus wants us to see him. Him, as he is. Fully God, fully man. Capable of claiming his Father’s power to re-create the perfection of human health, to make right the wrong of sin, to bring back from the edge of total, soulless darkness the soul that reaches out, that needs saving. Jesus wants us to see him as he is: as a man with limits—a need for rest, food, companionship, love, solitude AND wants us to see him as God—He Who rests in our hearts as the sacrifice that fulfills the covenant; the One Who feeds us the food and drink of heaven; the One Who is with us always as friend and Father; Who loves us without limit, without prejudice, loves us to repentance; and the One Who is here even in our solitude, the One Who fills our longing and loneliness with immaculate mercy, perfectly refined joy.

(I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.)

Jesus Christ is a man we can bear witness for. Jesus Christ is God whose Word we can bear, whose promises we can shout about. We can be witnesses who tell stories of healing, stories of radical mercy and forgiveness, stories of unexpected grace and enlightenment. You can see and hear the gospel. You can train your mind to think with the Church, your heart to beat with the saints, and your voice to proclaim the always re-creating Word of God.

For example, Paul asks the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. We cannot all live in the circus, being showman for Jesus. Nor can we all live in the university, being bookish geeks for the Lord. But we can know and love and talk about the Jesus of this gospel. The God-Man who touches diseases and heals, who touches a disposable outcast and makes him family again. The God-man who seeks out a little solitude to recharge, to recover from the hard work of being a preacher of the Good News to the shepherdless crowds.

You can be a witness for Christ by imitating Christ: speak a word of healing, of peace, of charity wherever you find yourself. Shine out your joy! Tell the truth about our redemption in Christ: he died for us so that when we confess our sins, repent of them and do penance, we are able to receive God’s forgiveness as freed men and women, and then put that forgiveness to use as healthy food for our growth in holiness. You can be a witness for Christ by doing everything you do for the greater glory of God, by not seeking first your own benefit but the benefit of others, and always, always telling the truth of the faith.

Jesus seems restrained by a need for secrecy and silence. Are we restrained in our witness as well by secrecy and the need for silence? Do we contain our witness as a private matter, a personal religious thing that we practice all alone? Maybe there is a spirit of shame or embarrassment gagging your witness? Or maybe a spirit of intellectual pride or fear of ridicule? Maybe you have been bitten by the All-Religions-Are-Basically-the-Same-So-It-Really-Doesn't-Matter-What-I-Believe bug and think that witnessing to Christ is somehow intolerant of religious diversity or unnecessarily provocative. Perhaps your witness has been silenced by the anger and bitterness of dissenters within the Church, or militant secularists outside the Church. Regardless—literally, without regard to any these — you approach this altar tonight to take into your body the Body and Blood of Christ, the One Who died for you, the One who reached out over the void, across creation as the divine breath of life and touched you; touches you now and heals you.

Go. Show yourself to the World, to the Church, and offer as your witness the cleansing that Jesus Christ has accomplished in you. Spread it abroad. Keep coming back and keep going out.

(We turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill us with the joy of salvation.)

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  1. I would have loved hearing you preach this one (assuming you preached it well!). There's some great stuff in here. I wish I had time to go through it in more detail, but unfortunately I don't. Thank you, though, for posting it.