Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time 'B'

Sunday September 20, 2009

To Live Simply is to Witness Strongly

Our world does not lack witnesses to integrity or martyrs for the cause of truth and justice. They come in different shapes and sizes, male and female, young and old, and from a variety of nations and ethnic mixtures.

A martyr is not necessarily someone who “lays down his or her life for a friend” or even for a cause. ‘Martirion’ is the Greek word for ‘witness.’

Martyrs are people who give testimony by word and deed to what they believe. While every true martyr is a witness, not all witnesses suffer physical death for the sake of their witness.

Authentic ‘martyr-witnesses’ are so in touch with the thinking of God and so in tune with the heartbeat of Christ, that their entire lives are permeated with goodness or ‘Godness.’ Good comes from the word God; to be good is to be God-like.

On the other hand, people who wear a martyr complex are not true witnesses. Neither are rabble-rousers from the right or left who carry placards with hateful epithets that condemn or demonize those who disagree with them. Though not beyond the pale of possibility, you will not ordinarily hear their voices on talk radio or see them on ‘You tube’ productions, ‘face book’ or tweeter.

In the early stages of their witness, martyrs are often admired and respected and even awarded with titles and honors despite their gentle protest against attention or reward. At the outset, people tend to appreciate their simplicity and the authenticity of their life-style.

Over time, though their words may stir up the juices of sympathetic listeners who join them in making the world a better place, their words can also become annoying to some and their ‘witness’ irritating. They become increasingly politically incorrect and may even be considered disrespectful. Because they speak out of the box, as it were, they are counter-cultural and challenge the status quo, and ‘our way of doing things.’ They ruffle feathers and are warned by ‘officials’ against flirting with danger and even the enemy. Some may be assumed to be compliant with evil and even complicit with the enemies of righteousness. How quickly noted author Chris Hedges’ prophetic insights were muted and his book, “War is a force that gives us meaning,” discredited as anti-American.

Picking up on the image of the ‘suffering servant’ from the Prophet Isaiah, the reading from the Book of Wisdom describes such a person: “Let’s get him — the just one because his words and deeds have become obnoxious to us; let’s put him to the test that he may have the opportunity to prove himself. In fact, let us condemn him to death to see if, according to his own words, God will take care of him!”

This description could have fit any one of the many witness-prophets of Israel. Jeremiah, Amos and Micah are among the more widely known, but they are just prototypes of Jesus who fit the description of a martyr to a ‘T.’ Jesus born in poverty was a ‘witness’ from day one, but not a martyr until the end. At the outset, many were attracted to him and his popularity as a wonder-worker spread. He was a personality not easily dismissed. He spoke as one who had the backing of higher authority and therefore someone who might be able to pull a few strings for qualified persons who were looking for an important position in the king’s court.

Jesus’ disciples were not exempt from the temptation to climb the ladder of worldly success. They competed with each other not for the cross but for the crown. How easily we can succumb to the same temptation craving the attention of the crowd and worldly titles.

So where are the witnesses today. It’s very difficult to identify them while they are living because their witness is still clothed in their humanity. Witnesses are not perfect but they live with a vision that does not draw attention to themselves but to a way of life characterized by unselfishness and total trust in the God whose indiscriminate love was manifested so strongly in the life of Jesus.

They are the people who are aware of God’s indiscriminate presence here and everywhere. That was Jesus essential vision, mission and ministry. The ‘kingdom’ of God is within you… and in everyone.

This ‘God-presence’ manifests itself in diverse persons and in diverse ways – in both conservative and liberal clothing and speaks many languages through many cultures. Mahatma Gandhi was a strong witness as was Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa. Many people believe that Vietnam war cricis Berrigan Brothers and liberation theologians Leonard Boff and Ernesto Cardenal were true witnesses to truth and justice in their time.

But what of the men and women from the pew, as it were, of own times who have taken a public stand for truth and justice for the unborn, for migrants, or against the war in Iraq and those who call for greater accountability and transparency in our Church. They continue to pay a high price for their prophetic vocations.

Indeed, each of us has a unique call to witness to goodness and to ‘Godness.’ For most, it will not cost us our lives but for all of us, it will entail sacrifice and for some misunderstanding and even rejection.

We seek not martyrdom but faithfulness, as Jesus was faithful. In the words of the great Ghandi, “We live simply so that others may simply live,” and thus will the love of God become more manifest in a world so taken with greed.

James gives us a description of a church of witnesses truly committed to truth and justice and integrity:

“Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceale, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”

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