– Thursday of the 4th Week of Lent –
[Jesus said] ‘But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.’ [Jn 5:36]
Today’s gospel text plays with the interconnection between faith and works. Jesus points to the works he performs which ‘testify that the Father has sent me’.
A historical and, at times, bitter disagreement within the Christian community concerns salvation by faith alone, or through faith and works – understood to include the efforts of the individual to do good as a participation in bringing about personal salvation. The discussion is as ancient as the Christian community itself, with Paul considered the champion of faith alone (Galatians 2:15-16) and James the champion of faith and works (James 2:14-26). It is further complicated by the Jesus of John’s gospel appearing to endorse faith alone (John 6:29), whereas the Jesus of the Synoptics appearing to do the opposite (Matthew 25:31-46).
It is a false debate arising from a mistaken premise. No one can earn his or her salvation, so ‘works’ alone are not sufficient. Neither can it be said that faith is sufficient unless it is incarnated in the way we live our lives. Faith and works are not in opposition to one another, and neither is the source of salvation.
Have faith that moves mountains by all means, and undertake works of self-sacrifice and service as a matter of priority. However, understand that your faith, and the works you do to incarnate that faith, are only your response to the gift of healing and salvation God has poured out for you in Christ (see Pope Francis, Rejoice and Be Glad 52 and 53). It is this gift that saves, and which we celebrate as this season progresses.
By Shane Dwyer