Readings (Year B):
Reflection: Faith without works is dead
When I was in high school, my youth group participated in a weeklong service program called JusticeworX. We stayed at a Vincentian retreat center (now closed) in central New Jersey, journeying into Trenton each day to serve at different sites and returning to the retreat center for evenings of theological refection to ground our experiences in the gospel. (Not that I could have articulated any of that at the time—admittedly, I attended because my friends were going. Who wants to be the one 14-year-old who stayed home and missed out on the giant slumber party?)
Each participant of JusticeworX was given a lurid t-shirt with the logo splashed across it and, more importantly, the scripture citation which provided the foundation for the work of the program: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26, NKJV). It is the wisdom of the Center for FaithJustice, the parent organization of the WorX programs, that “faith and justice are intimately bound together” (faithjustice.org), that our Christian faith compels us to serve those in greatest need and work for justice in our time. It is our Christian witness—who we say that Jesus is—that will point the people of God to their savior.
Turns out, the week blew my mind and heart wide open and ignited in me an almost voracious desire to serve, to grow in my faith, and to connect the two. I did not know it at the time, but the Holy Spirit was at work planting the seeds of my vocation. What worked to captivate my teenage self and guide me into thinking more deeply about vocation, about who God called me to be—even if I did not yet have the vocabulary for it—was this encounter with faith through the compassionate action of the gospel call, this witness of others saying who Jesus is through their works.
To this day, I find myself more deeply drawn into the wondrous mystery of salvation, the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, through the prophetic witness of those who serve those in greatest need, who manifest the call of the gospel, whose Christian witness draws my eyes to what it is that the reading from James reminds us to do as people of faith. People like Missionaries of Jesus Sister Norma Pimentel on the border in Brownsville, Texas welcoming the stranger in our midst and accompanying those entering our country, Jesuit Father Greg Boyle standing on the peripheries with gang members and reminding them of the unconditional love of Jesus, or the less famed, more personal witnesses of those good and holy people in my life who profess who Jesus is in ways large and small.
All these people, all these witnesses, draw my eyes to Jesus; they say who Jesus is without speaking a word. As Peter proclaims in response to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29), it is our witness today that points to the reality that Jesus is the Christ. Those who demonstrate that faith without works is dead are the ones who, for me, say who Jesus is.