Readings from the gospel of Luke and Galatians illustrate faith and action. But which of these is more important? A good answer is “Both!” because faith and action must function together for the best outcome. Are you ready to struggle with how to formulate the strength of faith and action?
Today’s message starts with Galatians 2:15-21, which illustrates a tension between religious law and personal faith. The distinction between acting and thinking entails more than academics or theology. Something as massive as a religious system may involve complex interactions between faith and behavior. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, there is massive controversy about what God wants, boiling-down to how competing sects debate what to do and how to do it. The nature of faith and action ensure the rarity of satisfying answers.
Consider the Bible and the Judaism found within the Old Testament (OT). The OT has hundreds of ritualistic laws and obscure commands. Sometimes the laws are strokes of genius, such as the Ten Commandments. Other laws are draconian nightmares not like Jesus’ God. Yes, the OT contains a minutiae of rules and regulations that strangle rather than enhance. In this case, we can perceive the dark side of human imagination. We realize that the Lord of life and love didn’t intend to be the God of rules and rites. The plague of multiplying religious rules has kept administrative bureaucracies busy as priests and officials crave power. Sadly, for the majority of people told to obey the rules there isn’t much benefit. Have you ever felt crushed by burdens placed upon you?
Jesus’ reforms emphasized the grain of good within the Old Testament law. Accordingly, Jesus took a brilliant approach, saying that love sums up all that is important in the OT. Jesus’ critics despised him for his real or apparent violation of OT rules. Jesus was empowering people to live their lives guided by principles rather than rules. The Jewish authorities knew that Jesus’ message would reveal their hypocrisies, which only fueled their hate. Jesus undermined the priestly privileges and threatened the elites’ economic interests. We must remain vigilant because institutionalized Christianity has frequently returned to an Old Testament mindset. Even today, strict behavior codes mask a dangerous preoccupation with structure and control. Yes, religious law provides a framework but it is one which must be restrained and ultimately overcome by Jesus’ Gospel of love.
Now to Luke 7:36 – 8:3, where we find Jesus at banquet hosted by a Jewish scholar (Pharisee) named Simon. Some anonymous “sinner” woman heard that Jesus was present and the woman arrived at the house with costly ointment. The woman was weeping tears on Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair, and then massaging his feet. Jesus used this drama as a teachable moment, telling Simon that this woman’s faith was proven through her actions, and that she had forgiveness through the compassion she demonstrated. Do we dare follow this woman’s example and demonstrate our faith with love?
Luke’s passage ends by describing how women supported Jesus’ ministry. This is extraordinary given how Christianity has demoted womens’ roles for most of its history. Do we know better now? Have we learned that demeaning half of humanity does no one good? Jesus didn’t relegate women to secondary status. That Jesus was a liberator is obvious in that his female contemporaries perceived him as inspiring, someone who had their interests in mind and who proclaimed a sex and gender-transcending message. How ironic that many women are still seeking the freedom that Jesus offered only to have it robbed, denied them for no other reason than that they are women. We must make our sisters in the faith equal partners.
Considering both Luke and Galatians, there’s more to say. Second only to Jesus, Paul was the influential shaper of the Christian religion. Yet even in the New Testament (NT) writings there are different emphases about faith and action. For instance, the NT book of James is notable because it suggests faith must at least match the power of good works. Overall, the NT places more emphasis on faith, and this isn’t surprising because Christianity’s distinctiveness emerges from how Jesus set us free. Is something holding you back or do you feel free to be who God is calling you to be?
Powerful faith makes sense. Not everyone can perform works due to limiting factors (e.g., age, health, poverty, etc.). Faith energy is theoretically more accessible, since there aren’t as many external limitations. This does not mean that faith is easy. Faith is all about gathering and managing inner resources and this is more challenging because of the vague, internal mechanisms involved. People can climb a mountain, build an empire, and achieve all sorts of visible accomplishments but faith is different. Faith is an inward transformation not easily controlled. However, the effects of faith are extended into the world with dramatic results rivaling great works.
Recapping, we notice that the verses from Galatians celebrate the virtues of justification by faith. Our souls are saved through faith in Jesus rather than through obedience to law. Yet we’re also reminded that faith and action must cooperate for optimal effectiveness. There is no easy recipe governing faith and action, yet these twin pillars of our magnificent religion function together—faith-in-action and action-in-faith. The woman who showered Jesus with love and care at the banquet beautifully illustrates how faith and action are superior to either alone.
We at St. John must continue putting our faith into action. Our “We can DO it!” approach demonstrates a commitment to both discipleship (the “D”) and outreach (the “O”). We express our joy in revealing God’s presence through faith and action. In doing so, we live by example and share how love and truth transform life. Keep up the superb, faithful work sisters and brothers! –Reverend Larry Hoxey