Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
(James 2:14-24; 26)
Leave it to a debate to clarify different points of view. Recently, self-professed atheist Christopher Hitchens and scholarly Christian Dinesh D’Souza have conducted a series of debates about God’s existence. The exchanges have left listeners with deeper questions about God and greater appreciation of faith in Him. We can read the passage from the Letter of James today as a debate rebuttal to some commentators on St. Paul.
It is important to distinguish St. Paul from his more radical interpreters. Paul understood the importance of love in the practice of faith. He was concerned, however, with Jews who thought meticulous attention to the Law was sufficient for salvation. He wrote the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” His interpreters, among whom seemingly is Martin Luther, have thought him to mean that “faith alone,” a phrase not found in Scripture, is enough. It was to these interpreters that James directed his famous statement, “...faith without works is dead.”
Which then is more important for salvation – faith because it is primary or love which Paul calls the greatest virtue? C.S. Lewis once said that asking this question is like asking which blade of a scissors is more important. Both are indispensable. Faith without love is like a car without gas. It will not move very far. Love without faith will inevitably falter since humans need Christ’s grace as surely as they need a vehicle to reach all points on the earth.