I’ve been thinking about being a witness the last few days. When Jesus appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection, as told in Luke 24, the Lord “opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
“Witness” now means an onlooker as a noun, and something you see as a verb. I am a witness, and it is because I witnessed something, for instance. The Greek word used in Luke is martyr and the first definition for this word in the Oxford English Dictionary is something different: the specific designation on honour (connoting the highest degree of saintship) for one who voluntarily undergoes the penalty of death for refusing to renounce the Christian faith or any articles of it for perseverance in any Christian virtue; or for obedience to any law or command of the Church.
So for the early Church, and the first followers of Jesus, witness meant more than an outside observer; it meant someone deeply invested in the truth, no matter the cost.
When Jesus told his followers they were witnesses to these things, he told them a fact and issued a challenge. In some ways it would be easier to just go back to fishing. Who would believe them, who would believe what they saw?
If Jesus was raised from the dead, that must mean what he said was true. It must mean we are to love our enemies, we are to love God above all and love our neighbors as response to that love of God. It would mean that nothing else matters, and it would be a truth that they (we) could not deny, no matter the cost. We would be witnesses.
I am a witness; I have seen the Resurrection in my life, and in the lives of others. And I have seen the hatred and the fear and anger of those who oppose this truth, and I hope to proclaim the truth of repentance and forgiveness as long as I live.
We are witnesses.