What Will I Live For?

Bryan Spoon, Seminarian

Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

In both the gospel and the reading from Acts today there is an emphasis on being a witness.  Both Peter and Jesus call us to be a witness to the Good News.  What is it to be a witness?  I think for me personally, it involves a willingness to be shocked and startled in some way.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, were talking with Jesus, but did not even know it until he broke the bread.  I think in some way, deep inside they had a willingness to be shocked and startled by the truth; to let their hearts be on fire with the truth.

Later in the same chapter of the gospel of Luke account, the disciples act as if they have seen a ghost when he appears to them.  How shocking it must have been to see Jesus face to face.  And with the wounds in his hands and the pierce of his side.  It would have been truly shocking and amazing.  Can you imagine Jesus standing right here with us, living and breathing, with pierced hands and a pierced side?  How would you react?

Just three months ago I had the opportunity to visit El Salvador and the home of Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The image of this visit has haunted me since my time there, as if I saw Jesus standing just before me with his hands and side pierced.  On March 24th, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist, Oscar Romero was shot through the heart.  In the very middle of celebrating the Eucharist.

During the time of their bloody civil war, he called for love and for repentance.  For years, while thousands of people were disappearing, under death threats and bombings, he never stopped preaching love and forgiveness.  In San Salvador, his humble home has been left exactly as it was on his last day; his small car, his small bed, a small desk and a small bathroom.  Even the towels in his bathroom are largely as they had been decades ago, the color and styles a real throw back to the 1970’s.  In a small room off of his bedroom, are his vestments that he wore during his last day.  His albe and shirt are drenched in stained blood.  The bullet hole right in the chest is as plain and stark as the pierced side of Jesus.  To see something like this with my very eyes, imprinted this on my heart probably something similar to the apostle Thomas when he put his fingers in the side of Jesus.  What I saw was gruesome.  The blood stains went from shoulder to waist.

I was shocked and startled and still am by this.  In both the Acts reading today and in the gospel reading we are reminded that we are witnesses to the gospel.  The word for witness in Greek is martyr.  When I looked at the blood stained albe and shirt of Oscar Romero there in El Salvador, my heart was drawn in to what he witnessed as a martyr.  I believe that I work diligently to see the Christ in others.  I pray diligently for leaders of the world, for persecutors and for victims.  But in that moment looking at those blood stained clothes, standing in a house that was completely unchanged, I was drawn into the kind of love this man lived.

Here was a person that loved God’s own, all of God’s own, both persecutors and victims, to the very end.  As I stood there in his house, I started to visualize the people that I pray for, to see them in my mind’s eye.  I saw Christ looking on them in love and submitting my own heart to the same love that Christ has for each person in this world, no matter how sinful or hurtful they are.  I felt the love that Romero had and the love that Christ has for all people.  But even in this love, I also felt overwhelmed with the evil of the world.  I felt sadness that even after 23 years of peace in El Salvador, gang violence is still rampant.  That evils still exist in El Salvador, just like they do in the United States, like the evil of sex trafficking.  Gang violence around the world, the United States included, has helped make sex trafficking the fastest growing business of organized crime and the third largest enterprise of criminal activity in the world.  I thought to myself, am I willing to be a witness and be a martyr like this man did to overcome evils such as sex trafficking?  What was I willing to die for?  As I prayed about this question, I realized that I was asking the wrong question.  The better question was, what am I willing to live for?  The simple truth is that we all are going to die.  But how will I live?  How will my life be the witness that Jesus calls me to be?

How could I live a life and witness like Romero, where neither death threats, or bombs, or harsh words, or even a bullet through the heart could stop me.  I feel his words and his presence to this day, calling us to love one another as he loved.

There is so much to say about this man’s life.  There are also many many other saints whose lives have much to tell about living.  Our own lives and experiences where we have been touched by God, have been startled and amazed, also have much to tell us about being witnesses to the Gospel.

Can you remember a pivotal moment in your life where your understanding of the world shifted?  A moment like in Acts where the Israelites saw the miracle of the lame man that was healed right in front of their eyes?  From Peter’s account he realizes they didn’t have a clue what was going on; that they thought that perhaps he was a god.  Or in Luke, where the disciples see Jesus, they think he is a ghost.  It reads that they were startled and astonished.  Or in John, we are being reminded that we are indeed children of God, lest we should forget it or not believe it.

How many times in my own life have I had this failure of imagination?  Who me, a child of God?  Really, a new creation?  Who me a saint?  Who me a cheapcialisoriginal.com prophet?  Jesus, standing right in front of me?

Something Oscar Romero said on being a prophet has stuck with me.  Romero said, “So, when I am told in a somewhat mocking tone that I think I am a prophet, I reply: “God be praised! You ought to be one too.”  For every Christian, all God’s people, every family, must develop a prophetic awareness.”

Who me, a child of God?  Who me a saint?  Who me a prophet?  Jesus, standing right in front of me?

Romero said that if we saw the flesh and blood Jesus, right in front of us, we would embrace him and kiss him.  But Romero also reminded people over and over, that Christ was indeed right in front of them.  Christ tells us in very simple words, what you have done to the least of these, you have done also to me.  Christ is in this very room with us, in each one of us. Who of us does not have wounds?  Whose of our hearts has not been pierced by tragedy or mistakes.  Each one of us bears the marks of Christ in some way or another.

I thank God that we have this community, where we can be ready to be startled and astonished, and see Christ standing before us in one another.  To remember that we are children of God.  That we are prophets.  And saints.  And that Jesus is looking back at us in each one of ourselves.  Ready to be loved and accepted.  And that we can take this love out into the world, and see the wounds of others and the Christ in them as well.  I remind myself that Christ is walking next to me on the road to Emmaus, inviting me each day into a life of adventure.  I remind myself that the Christ working in me is the same Christ that worked in Peter, who was able to cure the lame man.  That Christ is saying, that you will do greater things than these.  That I too am a saint or a prophet, or a witness to God’s love as Romero was a witness.

May each one of us be startled and amazed by what we can do in Christ Jesus; his power working in us infinitely greater than we can ask or imagine.

And, let us all ask ourselves, not what will I die for, but what will I live for?