Sunday, September 16, 2012

Either/or vs both/and

     In the second reading today we are presented with the challenge of faith and good works - one of the high points of contention of the reformers of long ago.  Many of the reformers said that we are saved by faith alone.  All I need is my faith in Jesus Christ to find salvation.  I do not need to do anything to prove my worthiness.  This of course, was a reaction to the other extreme taken by some in the Church that we could earn or buy our way into heaven.  If I had enough points in the Golden Book of Saint Peter at the Pearly Gate, then I am in.  Those points were earned by doing certain things or jumping through the right hoops, or at the time of the Reformation, buying indulgences for ourselves or our loved ones.  So, it became an "either / or" question ... was it faith that saved me or good works that did the trick.

     The reality is that it is a "both / and" response to the love of God that leads to salvation.  If I have faith, then my actions are going to reflect that faith in how I deal with and respond to the needs of others.  If I ignore those needs and the people that have them, then my faith is hollow and empty.  The good works give evidence of the depth of my faith.  Likewise if I am the most generous and philanthropic person in the world but my motivation is to feel good or to make a name for myself or anything other than bringing Christ to others, then my good works are helpful, but meaningless to my salvation.  If those good works do not flow from my faith in Christ and my gratitude for his love and grace, then they are of no consequence.

     So, faith and good works is not a question of "either / or" but of "both / and".  And my salvation rests in my relationship to Christ that is expressed in concrete ways in my life.  It sounds so easy, but for so many, is so difficult.

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