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BIBLICAL PAGES

by Fr Giuseppe Fabbrini

LECTIO

on the Church as the People of God

 

6. James 2:14-20


Introduction

The Church as the ‘People of God’
The People of God is the People of faith and originates from faith: it lives in faith in its historical relation with Christ; and originates from faith, from the concrete encounter with Jesus Christ. However, ‘faith’ is not only ‘an act of faith’, doctrine, knowledge; it is also life; it must be alive.
Therefore, its demonstration comes from the life of the People itself.
A faith without good deeds would give to the People a mere spiritual or ‘spiritualistic’ character. The People would not be concrete; it would not be visible; it would be unable to give witness.

Lectio

James 2:14-20
14 How does it help, my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith bring salvation?
15 If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on,
16 and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?
17 In the same way faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead.
18 But someone may say: So you have faith and I have good deeds? Show me this faith of yours without deeds, then! It is by my deeds that I will show you my faith.
19 You believe in the one God – that is creditable enough, but even the demons have the same belief, and they tremble with fear.
20 Fool! Would you not like to know that faith without deeds is useless?

Meditatio

14 How does it help, my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith bring salvation?
Now St James deals with a very fundamental issue. How does it help, ie, how can be mere faith useful at judgement (cf 2:13) and, moreover, will it bring salvation? (2:14) How does it help to claim to have faith without good deeds? St James then presents somebody who says, ‘I have faith’, and does not act accordingly; or who does not hold good deeds in high esteem, believing that faith is sufficient to be saved. This man can only claim that he has faith, but he cannot actually prove his claim by good deeds.
Who was this man? Perhaps someone in the community who argued that faith should be lived individually and spiritually.
St James replies to him, “Will that faith bring salvation?” This question is addressed not only to his opponent but to all the readers of the Letter. Of course it is a rhetorical question, which implies only one possible answer: if faith is not concrete, it will not suffice to be saved at Judgement.

15 If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?
These lines present a practical case, showing that faith without good deeds is useless. Someone who is in need is not helped by pious talks. It is not by chance that St James presents this ‘case’, but because of Jesus’ special love for the poor.

17 In the same way faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead.
This is the necessary conclusion: faith is quite dead, useless, without good deeds. According to St James, faith can be genuine and ‘alive’ only if good deeds come with it. It must be put into practice in real life, especially by helping those in need.

18 But someone may say: So you have faith and I have good deeds? Show me this faith of yours without deeds, then! It is by my deeds that I will show you my faith.
Conversely, now St James presents someone else who has ‘good deeds’ to show, as opposed to someone who ‘has faith’. Then he counterattacks: Show me your faith without good deeds and I, thanks to my good deeds, will show you my faith.
The idea behind it is that it is impossible to show faith without good deeds, while on the contrary faith is shown by the good deeds. My good deeds are the proof that my faith is alive.

19 You believe in the one God – that is creditable enough, but even the demons have the same belief, and they tremble with fear.
And the argument goes on… You believe in one God? You are right, but this proves nothing at all. In fact, even the devils have this faith, they know that there is only one God. And they tremble (this term is used to denote the devils’ reactions when they are exorcised). They tremble when they think about God, given that He could destroy them. As a consequence, faith without deeds is useless to be saved.

20 Fool! Would you not like to know that faith without deeds is useless [‘dead’]?
All those who believe that are fools. On the contrary, one should understand that faith without good deeds is dead, ‘cold’, useless.

Conclusions

With reference to God’s Judgement and salvation, now St James deals with the issue of faith. He does not define it, but regards it as a support in trials (cf 1:3); as the basis from which prayer can originate (1:6); and states that the status of the person is irrelevant (2:1-5); and that it is not an intellectual idea but a dynamic reality (2:14-20 ff).

Oratio

The People of God’s faith in the Lord is concrete and real. It originates from an encounter with Him. With the People and on behalf of the People, let us say, with Paul VI’s words:

Lord, I believe; I do believe in You.
Lord, let my faith be full, with no doubts; let it penetrate into my mind, into my thought, so that it may understand both human and divine things.
Lord, let my faith be free: that is, that I may adhere to it personally and freely, accepting all the renunciations and duties that come with it, and so that it may express the apex of my personality: I believe in You, Lord.
Lord, let my faith be unshakable: unshakable because of the irrefutable external proofs and of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit; unshakable because of its reassuring light, of its pacifying conclusions, of its soothing assimilation.
Lord, let my faith be strong: may it not be afraid of the adversities which fill our lives, that would hunger for light; may it not be afraid of the adversities which come from those who contest it, refuse to believe, object to it; but may it become stronger and stronger thanks to the inner proof of Your Truth; may it resist criticism and may it be purified by overcoming all the dialectical and spiritual difficulties that we do find in our lives.
Lord, let my faith be joyful; let it give peace and gladness to my spirit; let it make it able to converse with God and at the same time to be consecrated to men, so that it may radiate the inner beatitude of its fortunate possession both in the dialogue with God and with men.
Lord, let my faith be fruitful as far as good deeds are concerned; may it give to charity all the reasons for its moral expansion, so that it may be a genuine friendship with You and may be in You while performing good deeds, in suffering, in the wait of the final revelation; and so that it may be a perennial witness, always nourishing hope.
Lord, let my faith be humble, not founded on my thoughts and my feelings; on the contrary, may it be founded on the witness of the Holy Spirit, and may it be guaranteed by docility to Tradition and the authority of the Magisterium of the Holy Church. Amen.

Contemplatio

Church of God, Holy People, journeying towards Heaven. I am part of this wonderful reality which is given to me as a gift in faith and, in its turn, gives faith to me.
At Baptism the faith of the Church was given to me as a gift by the Church herself. I received the same faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; of Moses; of Mary and Joseph; of the Apostles, of the martyrs and of so many man and women who looked for and encountered the Lord in their lives. I too – like them – have been called to profess my faith and to put it into practice, making of it the real meaning of my life.
Faith is union with Christ; I am the branch who remains part of the Vine (ie, Jesus Christ); I bear fruit and good deeds are mine too, as I remain in Him!