Updated: Oct 16, 2021
The 2nd reading of this 24th Sunday in ordinary times brings to our mind a very important question: Are all spiritual attributes invisible? Can faith stand alone without good works and still save us? This reading, from James, tells us that faith without compassion, forgiveness, and help towards others is dead and cannot save. This is because, while the purpose of faith is salvation, the fruit of that faith is what pleases the Lord. Scripture says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Faith is not an invisible spiritual attribute and so James asserts, “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2:18). In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the priest and the Levite were discounted as neighbors because they lacked compassion and the milk of human kindness; they did not take care of a man who was in need. Their faith was self-focused and self-centered. In Matthew 25:33ff, we are told that the ones who will inherit the kingdom of heaven are not just believers, but believers who are compassionate and whose hands are the hand of God for those in need.
It is possible to have works without faith. In Matthew 7:22, Scriptures says, “Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you, away from me, you evildoers!” Yes, while we can have works without faith, we cannot have genuine faith without works. Christ had this to say about the Pharisees, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden…..Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:2-4).
The question is: can faith, devoid of human compassion, good living, and a forgiving spirit, accomplish anything for anyone? One can say, it can make people feel better about themselves or increase their standing in the Christian communities, but one thing is certain; it does not have an eternal value, and it does not and cannot save. It is not the kind of faith that God accepts, for Scripture says: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). Our faith, as Christians, is not invisible; it is measurable. Faith is a life-changing phenomenon. Scripture tells us, in the Acts of the Apostles, that all those who had come to believe were together and shared what they had according to the needs of everyone, and there was not one needy person among them. There is this story told in Matthew 21:18-20, that while Jesus was on His way back to the city, He saw a fig tree by the road that was full of leaves but no fruits on it, and He cursed it to wither. Why, because the fig tree had nothing to show for its promise—profession without practice. A man, walking on a street in London, was asked if he believes in the Savior, Jesus Christ, and his answer was, “I need to see more in the saved for me to believe in their Savior”.
True faith finds expression in doing something about the human condition. There is this story about a missionary group that was ministering in a church, located in a third world country, that was in need of financial help. The solution one of the team members proposed was, “We’ll pray that God will provide the money that you need.” But instantly, a different member of the group responded, “God has already provided for their need! Please everyone on this mission-team get out your wallet!” This story reminds me of the story of the feeding of the five thousand people, where the apostles asked Jesus to send the people away, early, so that they could get to the villages and buy, for themselves, something to eat and Christ’s response was: “You feed them yourselves”.
True Christian faith is visible! It finds expression in the way we treat others; it is all about being the face of God to those we meet, the hand of God for those in need, the love of God for those who are suffering, the care of God for the despised and abandoned of the world. As Scripture says, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:16). May our faith, in Christ Jesus, find ways to be visible, Amen!