Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Easter

James 1:22-27 / John 16:23-30

Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, we are told by St James, and rightly so. However, one wonders why he needed to bother. After all, it does not seem to require the authority of Holy Writ or any special insight derived by holy inspiration or the direct, personal instruction given by the Word made flesh, risen from the dead, to see the obvious truth of this dictum. Every child hears, at some time or other, while wasting his time avoiding a clear and unmistakeable request from a parent or teacher, "Did you hear me?" In other words, we know intuitively that any true hearing calls for a doing, the failure to do indicating most generally, if not always, an antecedent failure to listen in a fruitful way. In this light, the folk wisdom that we should "walk the walk and not just talk the talk" looks as effective as any apostolic exhortation to be doers of the word.

Of course, this seemingly clear and intuitively acceptable command is somewhat troubled by the words of our Lord: If you ask the Father any thing in My name, He will give it you. That is, from this perspective, the man of faith ought to live not as though the Gospel is about a call to action so much as it is a call to petition. Here the Lord reveals to his disciples more plainly than before his divine Sonship, and as coming from that Sonship as shared with the disciples, their intimate bond with the Father, who will anticipate their every needs even as he does for his eternally-begotten Son: In that day you shall ask in My name: and I say not to you that I will ask the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came out of God. Here is seems just as obvious that the key is not doing but believing, more specifically, believing and loving, which will result in the goods which the Gospel promises being given freely and gladly by the Father at the merest asking.

The answer to this conundrum, so sadly a cause of divisions among Christians, even today, is not to prioritize either active response to the Gospel or loving belief in Jesus Christ as primary, the one over the other. Rather, we need to see, as James tells us, that there is a certain kind of knowing that comes only from doing, a certain kind of belief that only arises from a faithful response in action. The hearer of the word and not a doer he likens to a man who sees his face in a mirror but, looking away from the mirror, presently forgot what manner of man he was. Said differently, there is a kind of knowledge of self which is passing, which, focusing on the self alone ironically gains no lasting knowledge of the self. Conversely, it is by gazing not on one's self, but by looking into the perfect law of liberty and doing the works told therein, that one can come to right knowledge, not only of God and right action, but of one's own self. That is, if we would believe in and love God as he is a work in us, the only way we can do so is through living out, putting into action what we have heard in his Word.

Loving belief just is the kind of belief that responds to the word and puts in into practice, even as the blessing of the deed promised by St James just is the conformity to the Son that renders us more loveable to the Father, and in so doing places our desires and requests more in line with the good he wills to grant to us. To live by loving faith alone, then, is to live a life of works, and to be a doer of the word is to be someone who places all his faith and love in Jesus Christ, risen from the dead for our salvation.

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