When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. It is I, Paul, who tell you this: if you allow yourselves to be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all. With all solemnity I repeat my warning: Everyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to keep the whole Law. But if you do look to the Law to make you justified, then you have separated yourselves from Christ, and have fallen from grace. Christians are told by the Spirit to look to faith for those rewards that righteousness hopes for, since in Christ Jesus whether you are circumcised or not makes no difference – what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love.
Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at the table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.’
… what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love.
A good friend messaged me recently to understand the contention between the Reformation ‘sola fide’ (justification by faith alone) and the Catholic notion of justification (or salvation) ‘by faith and good works.’ I have always found this debate intriguing. I know that in many places, the Bible clearly said that we do not ‘earn’ our salvation – that we are saved by grace through faith in God through Christ alone.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast… (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Indeed, I would agree. But to complete the picture puzzle, I would like to point to the book of James.
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… You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:14-17, 24)
Indeed, no one but God alone shall be the judge of it all.
Yet certainly it is no coincidence, that I am presented with the scripture readings today. It is true that when we pray for wisdom in the words to speak, we will never be left tongue-tied.
St Paul tells the Galatian people that Christ died for them to save them, and His death alone freed them once and for all. But he warns, that should they look to the Law to justify themselves (through circumcision – which marked the Jews), ‘then you have separated yourselves from Christ, and have fallen from grace… what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love.’ (Galatians 5:4-6).
Okay… Imagine the Galatians scratching their heads!
However, in this complementary gospel text, Jesus solves the puzzle with his warning to the Pharisees who were judging him for not first washing himself before the meal. “Atrocious! Just like the Gentiles!” they must have thought. Instead, Jesus points out that geniune faith is not a mere performance of ablutions and prostrations. So what if you clean the outside of the cup and plate, yet inside, your intentions are muddied?
The Christian faith is not about a club membership nor a racial or cultural association. But the only way one can be sure he/she is within the covenant of love is that their faith makes its power felt and visible by the love that flows forth as loving actions or good works. After all, the Latin for Christian love (of humankind) is caritas – and caritas is charity. ‘Instead give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you’ said the Lord. (Luke 11:41)
Perhaps when considered this way, we could cease debate, to find truth and harmony — that our faith in God is made visible in our love for our fellow men, which is manifest in humble and sincere charity.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: May we meditate on the words Jesus prayed to the Father for us: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through [my] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for calling us out of darkness into your light and truth. May we ever strive for Christian unity and charity as our work of thanksgiving and praise to you.