If you live in the United States, you most likely have heard the name LeBron James, a.k.a. “King James,” “The Chosen,” “The Annointed,” “The One” who will unseat Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player in the history of the game. Now at the age of 21, James is undeniably a sports icon and undoubtedly a hero to thousands.
If you watch any TV at all, you most likely have seen the latest ad campaign for Nike featuring James. The ads blend images of Cleveland and its people demonstrating their adoration of James with game highlights of James in action. “We are all witnesses,” proclaim various signs. Children draw pictures of the basketball player. Men and boys wear black T-shirts with WITNESS emblazoned on the chest while playing basketball. Did I mention the hip percussion track playing in the background?
My intent here is neither to praise nor criticize the way Nike chooses to advertise its shoes. But in today’s readings we are encouraged to think about what being a “witness” means to us and (as with all the Easter season readings) what we are to do about it.
In the legal sense, a witness is someone with firsthand knowledge of an event who offers their account as evidence of some fact. “Witness” is used often in reference to testimony by word or deed of one’s religious faith. “Witness” also could be used to mean a close observer – a spectator as opposed to a participant.
In the first reading from Acts, Paul is definitely more that just a spectator. He takes center stage at the Areopagus in Athens in order to give his testimony. His opening remarks are particularly relevant for our culture today: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.”
Today’s Gospel continues Jesus’ discourse on the coming of the Holy Spirit following his departure. The apostles are clearly distressed that Jesus is going to be leaving them, and so he describes the imminent arrival of the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who “will guide you to all truth.” Indeed, the Holy Spirit, too, is a witness, for “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears.”
If Lent has been a search for our truth, then Easter is a time to witness to that truth. We listen to the stories of the early Church and how the Holy Spirit guided and strengthened its members to do great deeds of witnessing. We are inspired. But perhaps we feel as though we haven’t fully experienced the truth about our relationship with God. “I can’t be a good witness because my faith is not that strong,” we might say.
But let’s look at how we are unknowingly witnesses to our own “unknown gods.” Like the Athenians, we witness to all sorts of things without thinking about it, both actively and passively. Be it a sports team, political campaign, music group, TV show, career, automobile, etc. we are eager to show we belong to something bigger than ourselves. Not that it’s immoral to be a LeBron James fan, or show school spirit, or give free advertising to Nike by wearing a WITNESS T-shirt, or work late occasionally. But the ruler of this world knows that we all too easily draw our identity from that to which we witness.
When it comes down to it, we really don’t have a choice. We are, in fact, all witnesses. It’s just a matter of to what we will be witnesses and to what we will give our testimony. Jesus sends us to be witnesses to our relationship with God through how we treat each other. Let it be our prayer as we celebrate the Ascension tomorrow and Pentecost ten days later that we continually grow in our ability to be active witnesses to the Spirit and the relationship that God constantly offers to us. To live in such a way that our life and our “witness” are synonymous.
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