The last verse of today’s Gospel “You are witnesses of these things”, sets not only the theme for the readings of today, but also summarizes both the privilege and responsibility of being witnesses.
The question, however, is to what are the disciples’ to witness? To whom must they witness? The witness is very clearly to the person of Christ. Even as they witness to Christ, they are called to specifically witness to his death, resurrection and also to the fact that in his name forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all.
Jesus shows this to them in two ways. The first is in the manifestation of himself. Even as he stands in their midst, he greets them with the greeting of peace. This greeting coming from the risen Lord is more than merely a greeting. It is a gift, a surety, a tangible thing. It refers to wholeness and embraces every aspect of life. It is a gift that will sustain them in all their endeavours and encourage them in Mission. After the gift of peace, Jesus responds to their shock and amazement by convincing them that he is not a spirit, but flesh and blood. He is the same Jesus who died and was buried who is now raised. The second way in which Jesus reveals the content of their witness is in the instructions he gives them concerning Mission. Their Mission is not different from his. It is at one with and continues the Mission that Jesus himself inaugurated. The disciples are called to proclaim the Christ event. This means that they are called not merely to proclaim that Jesus who was sent by God as the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the expectations of all people was crucified, died, was buried and was raised, but also that precisely because of this event all people everywhere have been forgiven, accepted and loved. The disciples are called to proclaim that the name Jesus means that God saves from sin.
Peter understood this message clearly as is evident in his address to the people gathered in the Temple. Though Jesus was rejected and handed over to be crucified, though he was despised and counted of no consequence and though he was killed for no fault of his, yet, the God who raised him forgives all those involved in this heinous act. Because they have received this unconditional forgiveness in Jesus’ name, they are called to a “metanoia”, a change of mind, heart and vision. The acceptance of God’s forgiveness must result in a transformation.
This idea is reiterated by John in the second reading of today in which he exhorts the community to realize that because Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, the response to such a death must be a life well lived. This is shown by obedience to the command that Jesus taught, that all love one another as brothers and sisters. This is how love for God and Jesus is shown.
“You are witnesses of these things”, is a declaration that Jesus continues to make even today. We who have experienced God’s unconditional love in Jesus are called to proclaim like the first disciples both the Christ event and that in Jesus’ name, God continues to forgive, accept and love. However, this forgiveness cannot be proclaimed if we have not first experienced it ourselves. It is strange but true that the only way we can experience forgiveness is, if we first forgive. The Lord’s Prayer which is one of the most common and well known prayers makes the same point. We ask the Lord to forgive us only as we forgive. In other words, we will not be in a position to receive God’s forgiveness if our hearts are filled with unforgiveness. In the creed of the Catholic Church, belief in the forgiveness of sins stands besides belief in the Holy Catholic Church and the communion of saints which indicates how central this aspect is to being Christian.
Psychologists and doctors today tell us that the larger majority of our illnesses today are psychosomatic. This means that when the “inside” (psuchē) of a person is affected then the “outside” (sōma) will also be affected. One of the main reasons why the “inside” gets affected is because of lack of forgiveness and holding on to hurts and resentments.
Not only are individuals all over the world realizing this fact, but heads of nations and religions are also becoming more and more aware that forgiveness is at the root of freedom and the starting point of dialogue. Heads of corporate houses are also becoming conscious that the freer a person is internally, the more productive he/she can be. They thus conduct seminars and sessions to enable employees come to terms with resentments and bitterness and anger and focus on forgiveness and letting go.
The hands and feet that Jesus showed his disciples are visible today in each of us who claim to be his disciples. These are to be shown to the world as “proof” not only of the fact that Jesus is alive, but that in his name, forgiveness is even now being preached. It is significant that the content of the preaching, even after the resurrection of Jesus, is to be forgiveness, because that is why Jesus came into the world; to save people from their sins. This forgiveness can be preached and made real only if we bear witness to it through our lives.
“Forgive’ I am fond of saying, “it is good for your health”.