1 Corinthians 2:1-5
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One common question that many people ask is about the relationship between faith and works. Some people say, well, we in the Catholic faith believe that we are saved by works. Of course, we don’t believe that. In fact, Scripture tells us otherwise. We’re saved by faith through the grace of God. But what is the relationship between faith and works? The book of James in the New Testament is prominent for its discussion of the importance of works. The relationship is this: if you have faith, your works will show it. If you have faith, it will shine forth like a light from you, for other people to see the glory of God.
And this is the message of our Gospel today. Jesus says, don’t hide your a lamp under a bushel, right? “It’s set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Our good deeds glorify God. They don’t save us. We can’t do anything to save ourselves. This is the core message of the Gospels; certainly one of them. We’re saved by the death of Christ on the cross. Christ is the remission for our sins. Our works do not save us. They cannot save us. St. Paul tells us that over and over again. Your works do not save you; circumcision does not save you, none of these outer things save you. Only Christ saves.
But again, what is the relationship between faith and works? Jesus tells us, we’re like a light on a hill; we’re like a city on a hill, that other people can see. This is from Matthew, chapter 5. What does this mean? It means that God’s loving nature shines through us when we live out our faith. When our faith is shown in our actions, people can see God in what we do. Other people see our faith in our works and are attracted to it. This means, for us to take our faith seriously. We shouldn’t take it for granted. We shouldn’t go, yeah okay, I believe in God. What does that mean? What does it mean when we say to ourselves that we believe in God? If it doesn’t mean anything to us, then it literally doesn’t mean anything! Just words. Words. Words alone aren’t anything. If we really believe, if we really have faith, it must have an impact on the way we live our lives. It would have to.
When you have a quiet moment, reflect on what the meaning of God is to you. What the meaning of God is to the world. A God that created everything that exists. A God that became one of us and suffered a terrible death to save us from our sins.
Think about the difference between us and God for a moment. I see this all the time in my work. We all see it. Whenever people mess up, often their first instinct is to try and blame somebody else. “Somebody else did it. I didn’t do it.” Look at what God did! God took our blameworthy nature on Himself and died on a cross for us. This is what God did for us. God didn’t have to do that. We were the ones to blame. We were the ones responsible for our own sins. God took our sinful nature and died on the cross. If you really think about that, if you really internalize that, if you really understand that as something that’s real, it has to have an impact on how you live your life! This is what I mean by saying, if you have faith, if you really believe that, your works will show it, because it will have an impact on the way that you live your life.
In our Epistle today, 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, Paul speaks of having “fear and trembling”. He says, “I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,” speaking to the people in Corinth, “and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Paul was an educated man. He was a smart man. You can tell when you read his writings. He was very capable of sophisticated reasoning and argument. But he’s telling the people in Corinth, that’s not what I showed you God with. I showed you God by my faith. As he puts it, “a demonstration of Spirit and power.” He’s writing about the Holy Spirit manifesting God through him, so that people can see the power of God, not in Paul, but in the Holy Spirit that was there with Paul. And he’s telling us to do that. Do that for others. Let other people see God present in you and in your life.
When we speak of works, what do we have in mind? Our Old Testament reading for today, from Isaiah, chapter 58, gives us some good examples. “Thus says the Lord: share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn.” Let people see the light of God in you, through the things that you do. This is a light that emanates from you, through your actions, to show other people what the love of God really is. Isaiah writes, “if you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” Again take away those bad actions and the light comes when you remove that darkness; people can see the light of God. This image of light is a beautiful one, and it shows us what we can do through our actions to let other people see us – and see God in us – in what we do. Our works don’t save us, but they show other people what God is like. They see God manifested in us through the power of the Holy Spirit; that makes us treat other people with justice and with compassion. Keep this image of light shining from you. Jesus uses images like that over and over again in the Gospels. He uses powerful images. Like these images that He uses today, about “you are the light of the world”, “a city set on a mountain cannot be hidden”, “nor do they light a lamp and then push put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house”.
Let people see the light of God emanating from you, in your compassion, your justice, your love for others. This image of light in this context again means us manifesting God to the world. So, as Jesus tells us, you are the light of the world. Be that light, so that other people can see the presence of God among us.