Witness

The body of Christ Jesus being tortured by Anonymous

A few years ago in Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to hear author and theologian Brian McLaren speak on discipleship two weeks prior to Good Friday. He started by retelling the story of Jesus calling the disciples as recorded in Luke’s Gospel (5:1-11):

1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Brian explained that Jesus calls each of us to also drop our things and follow. “It is our call of discipleship to be witnesses for the peace Jesus brings,” he said. “A witness is a person who takes a stand to tell the truth and our call today is to be witnesses for truth and reconciliation…witnesses to a crime committed (the murder of an innocent man, Jesus, by the hands of Pontius Pilate/Roman Empire, King Herod and the religious authorities).

"Crucifixion at Barton Creek Mall" by James Janknegt, 1985

Brian said we are to be witnesses for the truth of what happened to Jesus like the witnesses who take the stand to tell the truth in a courtroom. But often, he said, we as Christians don’t do a good job of witnessing to the truth. We misunderstand who Jesus was and what he came to do. We mistreat Jesus and deny that he was about non-violence, love and mercy. But Jesus’ response to all those who misunderstand, judge, mock and persecute him–both then and now–is one of forgiveness and mercy: “Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Unlike the wrongfully convicted in movies or our present reality, Jesus doesn’t declare revenge or retaliation on his enemies.

And it is that amazing unconditional act of grace on the cross that we are to remember all our days; share with others we encounter on our journeys, and embody in our daily lives. Because that act changes everything. As Desmond Tutu once said during a lecture he gave at the Washington Cathedral in 2007: “Jesus, by his obedience to the cross, broke down the middle wall that divides us from a loving relationship with God and others.”

Or put another way by German theologian and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

This is God’s new commandment, that we should look at him: how in death, he creates life, on the cross, resurrection.

That my friends–in God’s awe-full, mysterious, world turning way–is good news for us all to witness and claim on this Good Friday and Dead Saturday.

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