Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Inspired by James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” James 2:14-16 (NRSV)

The relationship between faith and works in regards to salvation has always been complicated. On the one hand many believe that we are saved by faith alone, not by works. On the other hand many believe that if we do not do enough of the right works, we cannot be saved. Which belief is right?

Part of the problem comes from taking the approach that our salvation has yet to occur. The truth is that we were saved by Christ on the cross; it’s already happened, and whatever we do now is in response to that grace, not in order to obtain it. And when we consider the question in that light, then we can begin to see that faith and works are two sides of the same coin, inseparable from each other.

A life-changing faith will naturally manifest itself in action, appropriate to the gifts and circumstances of the individual. In the example from James, both the wealthy and the poor are identified as brothers and sisters in Christ, but with different expectations based on their different circumstances. Those without the means to provide food or clothing for themselves are not expected to provide food or clothing for others, but because of their faith that God shows no partiality, they can reasonably expect material help from those who are able to provide it. And those who are wealthy, if they also understand that God shows no partiality, will see to the needs of those less fortunate, not because they expect to earn a reward, but because their faith in Christ has shaped their worldview in such a way that they simply can’t justify doing otherwise.

Jesus cared about the spiritual needs of the people. He cared about their physical needs, as well. As his followers, we’re also called to care about both.

Let us pray. God of abundance, you created us body, mind, and soul. Help us to serve the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of others, that all may know your care for the whole person. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.