By: Rev. Sylvanus AMEH
Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9a; Psalm 116; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35
Two Sundays ago, we read in Saint James’ Letter for our second reading that we must not only be hearers of the word but doers of the word. Saint James went on to say that hearing the word of God and not putting it into practice is foolishness, for it is in practicing what the word says that our faith comes alive and we build a strong relationship with God. The Letter of Saint James mostly contains practical guidance for Christian living.
In today’s second reading, Saint James takes up another dimension of this discourse and he says forcefully that “faith without works is dead.” He argues that it is difficult to prove we have faith if it cannot be seen in action, whereas, it is very easy to, by our actions, show that we are people of faith. So he says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” It is quite easy to say something, after all, words are cheap, but people are more likely to believe what we say if they see it. This is why it is said that “actions speak louder than words.” For instance, it is common experience for politicians to make humungous promises of what they will do during election campaigns, but how many eventually get to keep those promises? Yet, people will trust more, the one who made fewer promises but did more work for the people than the one who made all the beautiful promises and did nothing. Indeed, “faith without works is dead.”
This admonition of Saint James is for me, one that Christians of today need to hear over and over again, because more and more, the brand of Christianity being sold in our generation is one that professes faith but has no room for works. Faith is not theory, but a practical way of living; also Christianity is not a state of being, a state of existence, but a way of life. This means that the Christian faith is one that must be constantly engaged to produce the fruit of good works. This is why many Christians today want to have results without first going through the process. In the gospel reading of today’s Mass, Jesus had to admonish Saint Peter against this deadly disposition. Peter wanted to see Jesus as the Messiah, but he did not want Jesus to pass through the process of the Cross. By telling Peter and the others that those who want to follow him must do so carrying their crosses, Jesus also is saying to us that “faith without works is dead.” Many Christians today believe in the power of the cross (faith) but they do not believe in carrying their crosses (works).
There are lots of things we do today as Christians which shows that we are in the camp of faith without works. For instance,
- there are some people who spend the most part of their week in prayer houses asking God for a job (faith) while spending less time dropping their CVs in offices and attending interviews (works). They expect that by their prayers, God will send employers of labour to look for them in their homes or in the Church where they are.
- There are some ladies and some gentlemen who are asking God for a good life partner (faith) but do not take the time to make themselves marry-able (works).
- Some women have lost their lives or their babies while insisting on going through a normal delivery “like the Hebrew women” (faith) whereas undergoing a simple Caesarian Session could have averted such deaths (works).
- Many Nigerians are praying against the “evil spirit of bad roads” that are killing people (faith) while they keep electing, either directly or indirectly, politicians who have no interest in the common good who could have fixed the roads (works).
- Some people are daily praying for good health (faith) while failing to keep their environments clean (works).
- Many students pray to pass their exams (faith) but they do not study hard enough to pass the exams (works).
Hear me child of God and hear me well, we may have all the faith in the world, but before God will do certain things for us, he expects us to work for them. When we have done what we have to do, then God will do what he has to do and he alone can do. The majority of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in Scriptures show us this example, even though we sometimes fail to see them. For instance,
- before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he asked the people to roll away the stone across the grave (Jn 11:39). He did not pray about the stone; the people had to do the rolling.
- Before he multiplied bread for the multitude, he asked the disciples, “What do you have?” (Mk 6:38). He did not simply pray that angels should bring down bread from heaven.
- Before he healed blind Bartimaeus, the man had to earn Jesus’ attention by shouting over and above the voices of the crowd (Mk 10:48).
- When Jesus wanted to pay tax for himself and Peter, he did not ask Peter to pray for money, he rather told him to go to the river and catch fish and take money out of the mouth of the fish (Mat 17:27).
- The woman with haemorrhage did not only believe that Jesus could heal her, she also had to push her way through the crowd around Jesus to touch his garment in order to receive the healing (Mk 5:28-29).
The list goes on and on. Even in the Old Testament, we see a similar pattern in the miracles God worked through the hands of the prophets; either the prophets or the people had to do something before God took care of the rest.
Today, God’s word to us is that we must translate our faith into actions in order to give it meaning and power. As stated earlier, faith is not mere theory, but a practical way of life. So, with Saint James, let us remind ourselves that faith without works is dead. Let us therefore go out and through our way of life, show to the world that we are people of faith. I pray that God may grant us the courage to translate our faith into the everyday actions of our lives. Amen.