Public faith

lent2016

Reading: John 7

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’[c] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, ‘Surely this man is the Prophet.’

41 Others said, ‘He is the Messiah.’

Still others asked, ‘How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’ 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why didn’t you bring him in?’

46 ‘No one ever spoke the way this man does,’ the guards replied.

47 ‘You mean he has deceived you also?’ the Pharisees retorted. 48 ‘Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law – there is a curse on them.’

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 ‘Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?’

52 They replied, ‘Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.’

 

Victorinus was a famous public speaker in Rome whose conversion to Christianity caused great public interest. The Christian priests offered to let him make his statement of faith privately, as was often done in the case of famous persons, but Victorinus chose to proclaim his salvation through faith publicly. He reasoned that just as he made speeches as a rhetorician openly, so he could not now shy away from publicly professing his Christian belief.

"As he climbed up to repeat the Creed they all shouted his name to one another in a clamorous outburst of thanksgiving – everyone who knew him, that is; and was there anyone present who did not? Then in more subdued tones the word passed from joyful mouth to joyful mouth among them all: ‘Victorinus, Victorinus.’ Spontaneous was their shout of delight as they saw him, and spontaneous their attentive silence to hear him. With magnificent confidence he proclaimed the true faith, and all the people longed to clasp him tenderly to their hearts. And so they did, by loving him and rejoicing with him, for those affections were like clasping hands."

Victorinus had nothing out of the ordinary: he professed his faith in the same fashion as many other citizens of the declining Roman Empire had done. Yet it was he that earned special recognition and praise from Augustine, who at that moment deeply desired to follow in his footsteps. People of all times need witnesses to faith. This has been the case ever since the time of Christ himself. Even the guards who spoke to  the priests and Pharisees simply and honestly stated what they had seen and experienced. They became authentic witnesses for those who doubted or spoke against Jesus. It was ordinary honesty, courage, and consistency.

How often do we give in to the pressure of our surroundings and let ourselves be convinced that religion is a private matter? We are often extremely reticent with religious gestures, wearing a cross, prayer, reading of the Scriptures in the presence of others, public admissions of faith, and so on. Do we not, in a way, deny Christ by this kind of conduct?

Lord, encourage us so that we would no longer be ashamed of our faith but rather become its unimpeachable and courageous witnesses. Amen.