By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from Acts 28:14-23
14 There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.
16 When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
17 Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor — even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” 21 They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
23 After they had fixed a day to meet him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.
In today’s reading from Acts, St. Paul is called to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul was well suited to this. He was tenacious and eloquent. His words are still convincing us of the truth of Jesus Christ today. That kind of witness is immortal and has mattered significantly to countless people over several thousand years.
Now, we can’t all be St. Paul. The idea of standing up and offering convincing testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ may seem like a terrifying prospect. What could I possibly say to convince anyone? When in doubt, I’m reminded of Michael, a boy on my ninth grade debate team. One day, right before class, Michael told me he hadn’t prepared and nonchalantly announced he was planning to wing it. I told him good luck. When it came time to present, Michael volunteered to go first. He was amazing! Everyone knew he was unprepared, but Michael was a gifted comedian, and everyone including the teacher loved his presentation. In the end, we won the debate all thanks to Michael.
We may be tempted to write ourselves off as incapable of providing convincing testimony because we can’t do it like St. Paul. Michael was often written off as a joker, but he had an incredible gift that deserved to be taken seriously. He could make people laugh. If honed through prayerful consideration, he could have been unstoppable as an evangelist. We have also each been given gifts. If we humbly trust in the Holy Spirit to keep us from wandering too far off topic, our testimony told through our individual gifts may be the key to making the truth stick with a person for years and years to come. It may lodge deep enough in a person’s soul to be there for all eternity. Case in point: ninth grade was more than 20 years ago and I still remember the gist of what Michael said. We shouldn’t write off our talent for testimony nor our ability to stand up and wing it.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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