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Homilies/Reflections

FAITH AND GOOD WORKS. A reflection for the 24th Sunday of the Ordinary Time, Year B
By Fr. Donatus Okeke
Mon, 13 Sep 2021

READINGS: 1st: Isaiah 50:5-9a; 2nd: James 2:14-18; Gospel: Mark 8:27-35
 
A woman came to the office of a priest and complained of poor health condition. She equally told the priest that she has not eaten for two days. After listening to the woman, the priest discovered that the woman was not really sick, rather she was hungry. Thus, he prayed for her and gave her some food stuffs. This woman was so much relieved. 
 
Many students do well in Theoretical assessments but, it becomes difficult when it comes to practical. Our society is not progressive because our leaders have wonderful manifestos but, they fail to achieve these when voted in. One of the greatest challenges of Christianity is the inability to channel our faith from theory to practice. Such a faith cannot save us. The Church warns us against such tendency, in today's liturgy. When we do not put our faith into action, it means nothing and thus, it can be said to be dead. 
 
In the Second Reading, St. James maintains that faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. He uses practical instance of a brother or sister who is in need. Mere encouraging words make no profit for the person. The epistle of St. James is known for its emphasis on practical Christian life. The Letter of St. James is so much disputed because of its seeming disparity with the teachings of St. Paul. Martin Luther attacked it and would have removed it from the canons of the New Testament. The epistle for him was full of straw. While St. Paul emphasized that faith is sufficient for our justification (Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:16), St. James emphasized on good works. Thus, many Christian denominations rejected the teachings of St. James. However, such interpretation of St. James' epistle is faulty.
 
It is important to note that James did not claim work alone can save. Faith and good works are complementary not opposing. Works are not the cause of our salvation, but evidence of salvation. For faith in Christ results to good works. It is not a matter of either faith or work, but, the both (faith and work). My lecturer in the seminary once made a change on the popular Latin dictum: *"laborare est orare"* (to work is to pray). For him it should be *"laborare et orare"* (to work and pray).
 
A person who claims to be Christian and lives in willful disobedience to Christ and his teachings has a false or dead faith. Faith without work is dead because, it reveals a heart that has not been transformed by God. Empty profession of faith has no power to change lives. Thus, our Christianity should grow from mere sympathy (feelings of sorrow, pity for others) to empathy (putting of one self in the shoes of another). Jesus teaches that, it is not the ability to call Lord! Lord! that will guarantee us heaven but, doing the will of the Father (cf. Matt. 7: 21-23). 
 
Jesus was able to touch the lives of people because, he matched his teachings with practical things. He not only provided spiritual bread but, material bread for the hungry, always ready to sacrifice. Thus, in today's Gospel, he wanted to know if he made any impact on the people. I think, it would have been a heavy blow if Jesus' life had not made people think of God. They could associate him with the prophets (John the Baptist, Elijah or any of the prophets). It was through his teachings and works that Peter was able to discover that he was the messiah. However Peter failed in putting his faith into works. It is easier to profess our faith than to live it out. 
 
Biblical exegetes affirm that Jesus Christ (messiah) is the suffering servant of Yahweh mentioned in the First Reading. This suffering servant is not rebellious, even when he knows that obedience amounts to sufferings. This is faith put into action. Thus, through his actions and sacrifice, Jesus proved his love for us and demonstrated his faith for his father. 
 
Beloved in Christ, we must put behind us the idea (satan) of thinking that 'mere profession of faith saves'. Words without deeds cannot feed the hungry, nor heal the sick, better the condition of the poor, change our corrupt system of government. We are encouraged to move a step further from theory to practice. No one can be saved by works alone but, no one can be saved without producing good works. 
May God help us!!!
 

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