by Father Mike Stubbs
Have you ever served as a witness? If you have been the best man at a wedding or the maid of honor, you have.
The marriage license includes your name as a witness. Of course, there are other ways to act as a witness: for example, to testify in a courtroom for a trial or to sign off on a legal document.
There are also other less formal ways to serve as a witness that play a significant part in the Bible.
In Sunday’s first reading — Acts 10:34a, 37-43 — Peter, speaking on behalf of the apostles, presents them as witnesses of Jesus Christ.
His talk takes place not in a judicial setting but, rather, in the house of the Gentile centurion Cornelius. The apostles are witnesses to the events of Jesus’ life that Peter briefly summarizes. They attest that those events really happened.
The event that stands out the most is Jesus’ resurrection. They did not see the event itself, but saw the risen Jesus:
“This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
Peter also points to the prophets as serving as witnesses centuries earlier to Jesus by their words that would eventually be fulfilled in him: “To him all the prophets bear witness.”
In bearing witness to Jesus Christ, the apostles not only affirm the facts of his life. They also bear witness to the meaning of those events, that those events bring salvation.
In this way, the witness of the apostles goes beyond merely testifying to evidence. They are testifying to the truth of Jesus’ life. Compare the idea of a character witness, but on a much larger scale.
Such a witness makes a personal commitment. Eventually, for the apostles and many other early Christians, that commitment would result in their death.
It is no accident that the English word “martyr” derives from the Greek word for “witness.” The willingness to sacrifice one’s own life is the greatest form of witness.
The wonderful thing is that we can join the apostles in bearing witness to Jesus Christ.
Even though we have not seen the events of Jesus’ life, as did the apostles, we can testify to how Jesus Christ has operated in our own lives.
That is the most important witness of all.