November 15, 2019

The Unworthy Witness

Paul the apostle

“Whom shall I send? — Here I am – send me.” Words echoing the sound of Isaiah responding to God’s call – to be His witness! By the mere fact that we, as Christians, are members of a community of believers, we are also members of the Body of Christ. And as such, we are all witnesses to the world, of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. By the fact of our very presence within the church community, we are His witnesses. We may not feel up to the task. We may not feel worthy of the call. But we are His witnesses.

The realization that we are witnesses, simply by our membership, came to me very early in life.  As a young boy, I may have been quiet and shy, but I used to get into a lot of fights. I was skinny, and not very strong, so I didn’t win too many of them. I also just happened to be the only kid on our street that went to a Catholic grade school. That never seemed to be an issue. But one day, when I was having a fight with one of the neighborhood boys, a fight that was basically a verbal assault with a lot of pushing and shouting, the other boy said, “Oh yeah, well you’re just jealous cause you’re a Catholic.”

That comment basically ended the fight because I didn’t have a comeback. I was shocked by the fact that the Church I attended would even be an issue. What did the fact, that I was a Catholic, have to do with anything? Obviously, the fact that I was Catholic was an issue to the boy. But at the time, I couldn’t understand why. Now that I am older, I think I understand his statement. By our mere membership in this community, we are witnesses. We don’t have to say anything. We don’t even have to do anything. But for a lot of people in this world, the only Gospel they will hear is the one they see manifested in our life. That’s an awesome thought to me, the fact that we are His witnesses, simply by who and what we are. If you think about that for a while, it really makes you feel unqualified and unworthy. The mere thought of being an ambassador, apostle or witness for Christ, makes you feel humble and unworthy. That’s a very common reaction. In fact, that reaction is evident in virtually all of the major figures found in the scriptures.

The prophet Isaiah, for example, was one of the great Old Testament prophets. He was the first prophet to leave a written record of his prophecies. The book of the prophet Isaiah has 66 chapters in it. It is the longest book in the Bible. Isaiah was a great man, and a great prophet. And yet, when he finds himself in the presence of God, he says, “Woe is me.  I am doomed. I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah obviously saw himself as unworthy, not only because of his own sinfulness, but also because he allowed himself to live in an environment of sinners.

Take the Apostle Paul for example. Paul was not only one of the giants of the early Church, he also left many written records of his teachings. In fact, Paul’s writings are the oldest Christian documents we have. Paul’s letters contain the fundamental doctrine of our faith; that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures. Paul documents the sequence of Jesus’ appearances, and he points out the fact that he is the last one to whom Jesus appeared. He says, “I am the least of the apostles. And I am not worthy of the title, because I persecuted the early Church.”  Paul recognizes his unworthiness, in light of his past deeds.

Peter, our first pope, is another great example. When Peter witnesses the awesome power of Jesus, he says, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

All three of these examples contain the same common element; recognizing one’s sinfulness and unworthiness. The story of all three, however, also emphasizes the cleansing and forgiving nature of our God.

Isaiah was purified with a burning ember. The angel said, “Now your wickedness is removed and your sin is purged.”

Paul said, “I may not be worthy of the call, but by the grace of God, I am what I am.”

After Peter expressed his unworthiness, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. Rather, come and follow me. From now on you will be catching men.”

So the basic message contained in all three of these examples is, first of all, a reminder that we all have a calling, and we all share in witnessing to the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus.  Secondly, that it is natural for us to feel unclean and unworthy. And thirdly, that God cleanses us, forgives us, and calls us anyway.

So how do we overcome our feelings of inadequacy, especially when we are confronted with an opportunity to witness to the Gospel? I have five very basic and simple rules for witnessing.

SOME WILL

SOME WON’T

SO WHAT

SOMEONE’S WAITING

STAY WITH IT

For anyone who is in sales, this may sound familiar because these five basic rules are frequently used in sales training and motivation, but the principles apply equally well to our role as Christians.

Rule #1 : Some Will.

Some will recognize the Gospel they see manifested in your life. Some will hear the message contained in your words. You don’t even have to say anything, or do anything. Sometimes you witness simply by your dedication to your faith. You may feel like you are the world’s worst witness, but you are a Christian. The people, in your world, know that about you. Someone will be drawn to the Gospel, by your example.

Rule #2 : Some Won’t.

Some will not see or hear the Gospel in your life. This is the most difficult of the five, because of the feelings of rejection, the feelings of failure that we may experience as a result of their inability to see. We may even experience criticism or sarcasm. These kinds of experiences can make our Christian walk very difficult. How do you deal with it, for example, when someone says no and is critical or sarcastic – right to your face? You can deal with it if you remember rule #3!

Rule #3: So What.

Jesus told us to be a witness to the world. He never told us that we had to save the whole world.  He said, “Go and be my witnesses.” If they listen to you, then great!  If they don’t, “then shake the dust from your feet, and go on.” It is extremely important that we recognize the fact that we witness simply as a result of who and what we are, and that we remain faithful to that calling, because – see rule #4.

Rule #4: Someone’s Waiting.

Someone out there is in need of, and waiting, to experience the Gospel that is manifested in your life. You may be aware of it, or you may never know, but if you falter, if you give up, they may be lost. Remember, our job as a Christian is not to try to save the entire world, but rather to simply be a witness to the entire world.  Salvation is God’s job. Witnessing is our job.  So – see rule #5.

Rule #5: Stay With it.

Keep living the Gospel that we have been called to for the benefit of the “someone” who is out there, waiting. And always remember:

SOME WILL

SOME WON’T

SO WHAT

SOMEONE’S WAITING

STAY WITH IT

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Written by
Deacon Donald Cox

REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

View all articles
Written by Deacon Donald Cox
Click to access the login or register cheese