Daily Reflection for July 23, 2020

DAILY REFLECTION  •  JULY 23  •  Martyrs Trophimus, Theophilus, and 13 others in Lycia

The great teachers of the Church endeavored to teach men great truths, not only by words but also by obvious examples. Thus Abba Isaiah, in order to teach the monks, said that no one would receive a reward from God who, in this life did not labor for God, brought his disciples to a threshing floor where a farm laborer gathered the winnowed wheat. “Give me some wheat also!” said Isaiah to the farm hand. “Did you reap, Father?” “I did not”, replied the elder. “How do you expect to obtain wheat when you did not reap?” To that the elder replied: “Does he who did not reap receive wheat?” “He does not receive wheat”, replied the farm hand. Hearing such an answer, the elder silently turned away. When the disciples begged him to explain his action, the elder said: “I did this with the intention to show you that he who has not lived a life of asceticism will not receive a reward from God.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue from Ochrid)

Fr. John’s Reflection

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
            But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect…was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
            For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
(James 2:14-22, 25-26)

These verses from the Epistle of James capsulize his teaching on faith and works. St. Paul makes it very clear in his writings that we are saved by grace, and not works. We cannot work our way into heaven — there are not enough good deeds in the world to overcome our sinfulness. Salvation is a free gift given in Christ Jesus our Lord through His death and resurrection. But accepting that gift of grace and what that acceptance means is explained by St. James. The teaching is simple: faith without works is dead. He graphically illustrates the absurdity of someone claiming to be faithful dismissing someone in need by saying “be warmed and filled,” without warming or filling them! What good is that? Where is the grace of God in that? Platitudes of “faith” without concrete action is useless. He then illustrates that it is not “either or.” One cannot have faith while another has works. Both must work hand in hand. He praises the belief in God — “you do well!” But he reminds us that even the demons believe in God. Belief is not enough. Abraham and Rahab are used as examples of faithful believers demonstrating that faith through their works. This is a very clear and very powerful argument about the connection between faith and works.

There is a popular saying that “if you talk the talk, you’d better walk the walk.” Today’s passage is the New Testamental version of that saying. “Faith” is so very easy to talk about. I’m positive everyone who takes the time to read this would say they believe in God and try to live faithful lives. But we can measure it somewhat by looking at our works. Are we merciful to others? Are we compassionate, especially to “the least of My brethren”? Are we patient, especially with others? Are we gossipy and condemning of others? Are we quick to judge, especially at face value? Are we greedy? Are we generous with others and the Church? Do we share our time, especially when it is inconvenient? Are we lazy? Are we prayerful? Are we penitent? Do we trust God enough to thank Him for whatever He sends into our lives? Do we build our own images of God — making Him in our image and in our likeness? There is a laundry list of “works” that we can examine and test our faith. You can come up with some more of your own, I’m sure. And that doesn’t even address the opposite: imagine someone you believe to be truly faithful, perhaps even a priest or bishop, and you see them on a street corner picking up a prostitute or buying drugs, or being walked out of somewhere by the police in handcuffs. What would we think about faith and works then?

One thing none of us can do is claim true faith when we don’t demonstrate that faith with holy works. True faith begets holy works. And it has always been thus.