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Fr Michael's Thoughts on Biblical Imagery: A Worthless Faith


(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)


            The springboard of my Sunday reflection lies with St James’ famous statement in the Second Reading. St James categorically states that “Faith without works is dead.” This statement of St James can be described as an antithesis of St Paul’s “only faith suffices.” On the ever-continuing theological argument on faith alone or faith with works; I am tempted to side with the latter. I make this initial assertion because Christian faith, if it is genuine, should have the transformative power to affect the whole person. If faith does not take this cause then it is worthless.

            In the practice of our Christian faith, we should note that our entire life must answer God’s call. That is what St James teaches in the second reading, and he goes on to demonstrate it through the obedient faith of Abraham, who placed his own son, the God-given son of promise, on an altar of sacrifice. No one can meet St. James’ challenge to give an example of “faith without works”, to demonstrate faith that lacks effectiveness in life. The thesis that St James builds here is like what St John preaches in his writings: if a person says (s)he loves God but hates his/her neighbour (s)he should be considered as a liar.

            At times I am tempted to think that some Christians live their Christian lives along the path of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of “privacy of language.” You know, common sense teaches that a language is a shared venture/enterprise but for Wittgenstein to posit that language can be private, meaning it’s content and meaning is only known to the “subject”, is quite confusing. This beats the mind but he was able to defend his thesis. Maybe Wittgenstein had his way with his thoughts and no one has tried to erase this philosophy from the annals of philosophy of language, because our elders say, ‘opinions are like noses, each one has his/her own.’ But within the Christian’s “lived-context”, it does not sound well for faith to exist without works. It was our Lord Jesus who told his disciples to make their good deeds visible to men so that they will give glory to God.

            I will like to think that that is why after St Peter had made that divinely inspired statement of faith about Jesus’ identity, Jesus did not see that declaration of faith by St. Peter alone as sufficient, but rather it needed be completed by his taking up the cross and following Jesus. If one analyses the Gospel passage very well, it seems that St Peter responded to Jesus’ inquiry about what the disciples thought of him with a halfway correct answer. St Peter was right to state that Jesus was the Christ but this was just a statement of faith. Jesus invited St Peter to put that declaration of faith into works but unfortunately St Peter thought of it as very demanding.

            Christian living is not a halfway enterprise; it should be wholistic. St James’ teaching about faith and works really acquires its full stringency at this point: faith without the work of the Passion is not Christian faith at all. A person whose faith involves the hope that he will be safe and avoid loss will lose everything. To want to salvage oneself is egoism, which is irreconcilable with a faith that cannot be separated from love. The core of the work without which faith is dead is the act of total self-offering, whether to God or to one’s neighbour. That this act can involve suffering, even to the point of death. Our faith calls for the works of renunciation, following the path of our Lord Jesus.

            In the first reading we get a glimpse of an Old Testament’s foreshadowing of a renunciation of self. The servant of God stands up to the enemies who beat him, rip out his beard, and defile his face with blows and spit. God gives him the strength to make his face as hard as flint. He knows that in this suffering he is obeying and that God is not abandoning him, despite all his feelings of abandonment. For a Christian to live out his/her faith with works can be demanding and at times it can end in one’s martyrdom but we should note that is the way of Christ and the saints who have gone before us. Let us see your faith in your works.



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