Witness. [from Old English witness knowledge, testimony] 1. A person who has seen or knows something, and is therefore competent to give evidence concerning it. 2. An attestation to a fact or an event; testimony: usually in the phrase to bear witness …
Throughout history, in most times and places, bearing witness is something very, very important — and bearing false witness is something very, very bad. So much so, that it ranks right up there with idolatry, murder, adultery and theft.
One of the Ten Commandments revealed by God to Moses is; “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Proverbs calls “the false witness who utters lies, and he who sows discord among brothers” abominations to the Lord.
That’s why taking an oath has always been such a solemn and serious thing to do. Sworn testimony is the basis for legal judgment. The testimony of two witnesses is enough to establish the truth of a controversial fact. An honorable person’s word is as good as his or her bond.
Most cultures shun an oath breaker. A perjurer is liable to punishment. We have no use for a person who is not good to his or her word.
There is more than one way to bear witness. We bear witness not only with words, whether casually spoken or solemnly sworn — we bear witness also by our deeds. “Actions speak louder than words.” We bear witness by what we do and what kind of persons we are.
A special form of bearing false witness is hypocrisy — the pretense of having feelings or characteristics one does not possess, especially the deceitful assumption of praiseworthy qualities.
Sailing one’s life under false colors is bearing false witness.
In his final words to his followers, Jesus Christ said, “You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What kind of a job of witnessing do Christians — those who bear his name and claim to be his followers — do, when their actions contradict his teachings?
What about: “This is my commandment: Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
What about: “I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
What about: “Each of you forgive his brother from his heart” and “Forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.”
How do Indian Christians deal with lower castes? How do Palestinian Christians deal with Israelis? How do Eritrean Christians deal with Ethiopians? How do Armenian Christians deal with Azeris? How do French Christians deal with Muslims?
How do “white” Christians treat “blacks”? — and vice versa. How do affluent Christians treat the poor? How do “straight” Christians treat “gays”? How do Christian husbands treat their wives? — and vice versa. How do Christian clergy treat their people?
Practicing what you preach is not only a challenge for preachers — it’s a challenge for each of us. Don’t forget, right up there with the really big sins is bearing false witness.
Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern