Faithful Witness

 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed* us from our sins by his blood, 6and made* us to be a kingdom, priests serving* his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:4-6

 

It didn’t occur to me until the next morning that the boy might have burned the bread on purpose. Might have dropped the loaves into the flames, knowing it meant being punished, and then delivered them to me. But I dismissed this. It must have been an accident. Why would he have done it? He didn’t even know me. Still, just throwing me the bread was an enormous kindness that would have surely resulted in a beating if discovered. I couldn’t explain his actions. The Hunger Games

 

The second quote above is spoken in the voice of Katniss Everdeen, the main character of the popular book and movie series, The Hunger Games.[1] In the book, Katniss has just finished telling the reader about a time when she and her family were near starving to death. As she searches through the trashcans of the local shops, the baker’s son and his mother spot her. The mother tries to chase her away and she slumps down by a tree ready to give up. She is so hungry and exhausted.  She hears the mother yelling and hears her strike her son with something. Then, Katniss hears footsteps approaching and fears that it is the mother come to shoo her away. She turns to see Peeta, the baker’s son, who has two scorched loaves of bread in his arms. He is supposed to throw them to the pigs, but he tosses them to Katniss.

After a long-awaited night’s sleep without hunger pangs, Katniss reflects on the incident the next morning. She can’t explain why he would face inevitable punishment to give her some bread. That moment of compassion sticks with her. For us as Christians, who seek to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Peeta’s actions would be easily recognized as part of his faithful witness to the way of Christ in the world. Peeta seeks to do what is right by showing compassion and feeding the hungry even in the face of painful repercussions. He does not seek the bruised cheek as some kind of badge to prove his righteousness. He is compelled to stand up for what is good and right even if that means that he will be punished.

The book of Revelation is full of language about witnesses, witnessing and Jesus Christ, the faithful witness. The history of interpreting this term has been impacted by the Greek term, which sounds like the English word martyr. If we thinking of our calling as witnesses to Jesus as related to being a martyr, then we often spend too much time focused on the end results of our struggles and testimonies. During Lent we give things up as a kind of timid version of martyrdom. The problem is that we often lose focus on John’s understanding of the witness language. For John, being a witness is about testifying that Jesus is Lord even when that witness might get you in trouble. To follow Jesus as the faithful witness means to adopt his ways, to act with his compassion, to stand up in the face of injustice and evil, to love the people of every nation and tongue so much that you are willing to sacrifice your life if it comes to it.

This Lent as we think about what we are giving up or what practices we hope to add to our lives, we need to think about how they affect our ability to be faithful witnesses to God’s ways in the world. A truth of Lent is that the world’s ways are not God’s ways. To be a witness for God can sometimes lead to struggles and suffering and this is a large part of what we meditate on in this season leading up to the cross. What we know and where we find our strength to live this potentially perilous life of witness is that Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, “loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father.” To God be the glory and power for ever and ever, Amen.

[1] Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. London: Scholastic, 2012.