FAITH IN CHRIST AS THE POWER FOR OUR MINISTRY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GAL 5:1-6; LK 11:37-41 ]
We all know that our justification is by faith alone. We are made right with God not because of what we can do or what we have done but simply because of His merciful love for us. Hence, how effective and dedicated we are to be as disciples and apostles of our Lord, depends on how strong our faith is in Him.
But in reality, do we truly believe in His merciful love? How does one measure one’s faith in Christ? Do we measure our faith in terms of how much good works and how many projects we have done? Do we measure our faith in Him by examining how faithful we are to the decrees of the Lord, always keeping the law and delighting in His commands? If these are the means by which we gauge our faith in the Lord, then Jesus warns us that we might be putting the cart before the horse.
Yes, we too have fallen into the same mistake of the Galatians. Instead of clinging to Christ’s love and mercy, they clung to the laws and we, our good works. Hence, St Paul challenged them saying that “everyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to keep the whole Law.” As a consequence, they lost the joy of being Christians. Indeed, this so disappointed Paul that he urged them, “When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
This, too, was the misunderstanding of the Pharisees and the Scribes about justification. They were apparently so faithful to the Torah, just like the psalmist who worshipped the commands of the Lord. Unfortunately, they literally worshipped the commands of God by making the laws their idols. They were preoccupied and meticulous in the observation of the rituals and the traditions of the Fathers. In itself, the observation of such traditions has its value and is not to be despised. Yet, we know that Jesus deliberately broke the Jewish customs by eating without first washing His hands. The intention, as implied by the evangelist, is to surprise them rather than to deny the value of the traditions. Jesus wanted to put the all-important point across that what is essential is not so much the commandments that we observe legalistically but that they are really meant to help us to live a righteous and charitable life. Indeed, He reprimanded them, “Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! … Instead give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.” So what is necessary is that we purify the heart rather than be too taken up by externals which, although are important, do not necessarily mean that they are the measure of true holiness.
But does it mean therefore that if we do good deeds, that is, almsgiving, we can claim to have a deep faith in Christ? Is Jesus implying that if we give alms then we can presume that we love God? Such an interpretation would only lead us to believe that we can justify ourselves by good works. The truth is that this is no real indication that we have a deep faith in Jesus. How then does one measure one’s faith in Christ?
Faith in Christ means that we do not rely on the Law, as St Paul tells us. Concretely it means that we do not rely on our observance of the laws or good works. Why? Because obedience to the laws and even the performance of good works spring from pride. Pride, we know, was the first sin of Adam and Eve. They wanted to be like God without God. Often, we, too, act in that manner. Although our lips profess that we rely on God, yet in faith we can actually be like the Galatians whom Paul condemned.
Sometimes we can stress too much on the strict observance of rubrics, rules, regulations and doing the right thing by our faith, and forget the real purpose or intention of the rules, which is to promote love and unity. Indeed, Jesus condemned the Jews not because of their observance of the customs but because they forgot the real reason for their observance. Just the execution of them is no guarantee that we love God if it springs from our pride, for the consequence is that we begin to think too highly of ourselves and even despise those who fail to keep to the rules. We become proud and condescending. We say to others, “If I can do it, why can’t you?” So it is nothing but human power and strength. If we can do it on our own strength and will, it is really not the work of God but our own work. If that were the case, we do not really need God or His grace. If we think we are such good Christians and consider ourselves worthy and therefore have a place reserved for ourselves in heaven, it is already a sign of pride because we think we have earned it.
Secondly, for those of us who cannot live up to the laws or are incapable of loving, we may feel depressed and demoralized. We hate ourselves. We feel that we are not worthy of God or of His love. When we see ourselves as hypocritical and unlovable, we begin to hate ourselves more and more. As a result we become envious of those who are well loved and who do well in their calling. Some of us might even condemn others more harshly because we act like sour grapes. How can we accept others when we cannot admit our own sinfulness?
The solution cannot be based on our good works. It must be because of our faith in the love of God in Jesus. This is primary and central. We must realize that our faith is primarily in the love of God and His forgiveness in Christ Jesus before anything else. It has nothing to do with our works. This is the faith that is presupposed. As St Paul says, it is faith that manifests its power through love. There is great import in this statement. Faith in Christ means that we no longer depend only on ourselves but always on His love for us. We must never think of ourselves as unworthy of His love. This is the kind of faith in Christ that St Paul means.
Hence, even when we fail, especially when we have tried our best, then we must trust in God’s mercy. We are loved by God even if we have not been able to live up to our calling; even if we have not been able to do as much as we want. We will still feel unworthy before the Lord, but without despising ourselves simply because we have not lived up to the gospel demands. All the more we want to love Him so that our lives can be lived in union with Him. Unless we have this faith, we cannot say that we have faith in Him.
Without this faith, we will fall back to slavery as we try to prove ourselves in good works. Thus, we must not misunderstand Jesus as simply saying that it is enough to love. We must qualify His statement with that of Paul. Jesus was not so much against the external practices but He was speaking of the heart that has been transformed by the love of God. He was not speaking of charity only. A lot of philanthropists do that. But that can also make them proud. So even to love is not sufficient to make us happy in life. We can think highly of ourselves, but we will always feel insecure and never feel that we have done enough. We become restless as we try to keep proving ourselves to others. We remain forever unhappy because we think we can do better and strive to do better. If such a thought comes from our recognition of our powerlessness, it is good, but when it comes from our pride, then it will unsettle us and make us anxious and fearful people.
Thus, the Good News that we are called to proclaim to ourselves and to others is that, although unworthy, we know that He still loves us unconditionally and always. With this confidence in His love, we are now healed and transformed. We want to tell the world that they do not have to prove themselves before God but that God loves them just as they are and want us to share in His love even more each day. Hence, when we speak of good works, it is a work and obedience to the commandments rooted in our deep experience of God’s love for us. It is His love that makes us good; not that He loves us because we are good. Our strength must come from our experience of the merciful love of the Lord. With the psalmist we implore, “Lord, let your love come upon me, the saving help of your promise. Do not take the word of truth from my mouth for I trust in your decrees.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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