St. Stephen the Protomartyr being stoned.jpg

The Greek word for witness is martyr, which has quite a different connotation in English. It was a legal term as much as anything else, the same way we would understand a witness in a trial today. In the connotation that we know it today, a martyr is someone who dies for the faith. A martyr points to God by pointing to the cross, by witnessing to a faith larger than any fear of death. Pretty intimidating.

Something far less intimidating is one of my dad’s favorite movies, My Cousin Vinny. In the movie, Joe Pesci plays a fast-talking New York lawyer who goes down south to try and get the Karate Kid (or the actor who played the Karate Kid, I can’t remember) off a murder charge. The movie has a number of great courtroom scenes, but the whole trial hinges on the testimony of Marisa Tomei, who plays Vinny’s girlfriend. She doesn’t know why she is on the stand. The judge doesn’t know why. The prosecutor doesn’t know why. What happens, though is quite relevant for us today. Fairly quickly, Vinny is able to establish that she has an expert knowledge of cars due to growing up in a family of mechanics. She then is able to point out that the tire tracks to the getaway car could not have been from the Karate Kid’s car due to a peculiarity of that year's model. She witnessed to his innocence without even realizing it. He was able to walk free because of something she didn’t think important and didn’t realize was relevant.

Witnessing to something is not just about intentionality. Being a witness to Jesus is as much about the things you don’t realize you do as it is about the things you try to do. God calls us to faithfully respond to the amazing gift of mercy and love found in grace. When we try to limit that response, we limit God. When we look to the holy people in our lives and think that we could never live like that, we are limiting God’s grace in us. We are saying our God is not big enough to cover our frailties.

To witness to your faith is to point to the object of your faith, Jesus Christ. It is to validate it, through words and actions. It is to not be ashamed of the faith, it is to not hide from the faith. Peter exhorts us to “honor Christ the Lord [in our hearts] as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). To make a defense, there must be hope in you, or else it is just hollow words. 

To witness to your faith, there must be faith in you. This is not found in going door to door or stopping people in stores; it is found in living a life of discipleship that points to Jesus, that points to the church as a place where Jesus is found. Is Berkeley a place where people find Jesus? Is Berkeley a place where people find forgiveness and encouragement and the joy that passes understanding? If it is not, how can we become that place? If it is, how can we cease from singing? We will witness to Christ when we don't realize it, and God will be glorified in all that we do.