Day 350: Faith and Works

The Book of James




Main Themes:

(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

James 1:1 The probable author of this Epistle was James, a relative of Christ and bishop of the Church in Jerusalem, who was martyred AD 62. Its style is less personal and more homiletic than most of the other Epistles and more closely resembles the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (the Books of Wisdom, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, etc.). 

Twelve tribes in the Dispersion: The nation of Israel was comprised of Twelve Tribes representing the lineage of the twelve sons of Jacob, and each had designated territory. In time, most of these tribes gradually lost their identities through war, exile, and intermarriage with foreigners. Many Jews who remained faithful to their tradition formed communities in lands outside of Palestine and were called the Diaspora, Greek meaning “Dispersion.” In the New Testament, Diaspora has a renewed meaning as the New Israel, or those Jews who had received the Gospel and converted to Christianity. The Twelve Apostles represent and judge the Twelve Tribes in the New Israel. (CCC 765, 877, 2586)

Ch 1:2-12 Both Christ and Paul warned of the inevitability of suffering and that carrying our cross is an essential part of the Christian calling. Suffering, which afflicts both the faithful and nonbelievers, can be united to Christ’s suffering and Death as reparation for sins, spiritual purification, and a means of conversion for oneself and for others. (CCC 520-521, 1808)

Ch 1:2 My brethren: A term of familial affection indicating a spiritual brotherhood that includes all Christians united in Christ. (CCC 1, 1655)

Ch 1:5 Wisdom: This gift of the Holy Spirit helps us discern the truth and God’s will for us. James, like Paul, urges us to always pray with confidence. (CCC 216, 2633)

Ch 1:8 Double-minded: This refers to a person whose conviction wavers between trust in God and doubt; the Greek dipsuchos means literally “having two souls.” Lack of trust in God fully-or at least a lack of the desire to trust-renders our less effective.  (CCC 2734-2737)

Ch 1:9-10 Christ taught that a person who exalts him- or herself will be humbled, and a person who humbles him- or herself will be exalted (cf. Lk 18:14). Meekness is rewarded in this life but especially in the next; on the other hand, self-aggrandizers have their reward already in worldly praise and comforts. (CCC 716, 1716-1717, 2559)

Ch 1:13-18 Confrontation with evil and suffering is part of our human experience. God, who is All-loving, permits suffering and temptation for a greater good. Scripture relates that in creation God gave us the invaluable gift of freedom. However, the misuse of this gift by our first parents resulted in a fallen human nature, which is inherited by all people. This wounded nature caused by Original Sin results in an inclination toward many forms of selfishness and often sinful action. While God is omnipotent, his intervention in human affairs to prevent evil would make free will superfluous. James taught that the responsibility for sin and evil falls on a wounded nature, easily prone to sins. While God may allow temptation to test our faith, he always provides us the means to resist it. This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” (CCC 309-311, 2846-2854)

Ch 1:17 The Father of lights: A reference to God as the creator of the celestial bodies. From an earthly perspective, the sun, moon, and stars come and go, appearing and fading, while God himself remains a constant light for those who seek him and love him. The term also suggests the light of discernment and truth that vanquishes the darkness and presents us with everything that is good and perfect. (CCC 212, 2642)

Ch 1:25 Law of liberty: This refers to the New Law of Christ because it frees us by grace to go beyond the requirements of the Mosaic Law to reproduce Christ’s love. (CCC 1837, 1972)

Ch 1:26-27 The true practice of faith must include love and care for the poor and needy. Families should first take care of their own members who are poor, sick, elderly, or disabled, but this care becomes the responsibility of the Christian community when such help is not available. (CCC 2208)

Ch 2:1-13 James gave practical applications to the Great Commandment that underscores the moral law. Favoritism for people of higher social classes is hypocritical for a Christian, who must love all persons unconditionally and equally. If we truly love God and neighbor, we are fulfilling God’s will. The moral law is not an end in itself as much as a preparation and condition to live the charity of Christ spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount. (CCC 1934-1935)

Ch 2:5 Heirs of the kingdom: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20). Poverty serves as an indispensable means to freely give our hearts to Christ and others out of love for God. (CCC 2546, 2547)

Ch 2:7 Blasphemy consists of any thought or word disrespectful of God, whether it is an expression of defiance, hatred, or ridicule. The sin also applies to statements against the Church, the Virgin Mary, the saints, and all that is sacred. To do evil or to abuse people in God’s name is also blasphemous. Blasphemy is a violation of the Second Commandment, which requires that we give God’s name the highest respect and veneration. (CCC 432, 1756, 1856, 2148, 2162)

Ch 2:8 Royal law: The law of the kingdom of God is rooted in love. It perfects the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments. (CCC 2196, 2842)

Ch 2:9-13 The Old Law defined sin but did not provide any means to avoid it. Due to Original Sin, it was impossible for anyone to keep the Law to perfection. As Paul says elsewhere, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

Mercy triumphs: A merciful heart expresses itself in works of mercy. God’s mercy toward us will be proportionate to the mercy we show to others. (CCC 578, 1971-1972, 2069, 2079)

Ch 2:14-19 Martin Luther, whose dissent started the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, believed this Epistle should be removed from the canon of Scripture because it spoke highly of the necessity of good works. Taking Paul’s teachings on faith out of context, Luther diminished the value of good works. In fact, James is in complete agreement with Paul: Faith is only perfected and made fruitful in doing deeds of charity. It is true that grace and salvation are free gifts of God that we cannot merit, but it is also true that  faith must be freely lived through works that manifest love for Christ. We must be both “hearers” and “doers” of the Word of God. (CCC 162, 1021, 1987-1994, 2005, 2010, 2447)

Ch 2:14 This is the passage that perhaps disturbed Martin Luther the most: “So faith by itself, it has no works, is dead.” James emphasizes this point very clearly: It is not enough simply to “believe,” to give intellectual assent to the message of the Gospel and the rest of Sacred Scripture, but rather it has to be lived and practiced. To merely offer good wishes to someone in need without doing what is possible to fill that need makes faith a hollow shell. “Dead” faith is associated with mortal sin, which cuts us off our relationship with God and, therefore, any action is rendered to be without merit. James’ discussion of this topic may be an effort to refute some who, like Luther, took Paul’s statements about justification by faith to an erroneous extreme. (CCC 162, 1021, 2001-2005)

Ch 2:18-19 You have faith and I have works: If a person has faith but not good works, his or her faith is ineffective since at best it is nothing more than academic. If a person does good works, however, those deeds express a living faith. Thus, faith is incomplete unless it is practiced with good works. 

Even the demons believe: The devil knows that “God is one” and gives intellectual assent to some theological truths, yet his works are evil, since his mission is to undermine Christ’s work of redemption. This shows that a true life of faith is predicated upon words of charity. (CCC 1814-1816, 2044)

Philippians 3:1-6 Some of the Jewish Christians believed that Gentiles should accept the Law of Moses and be circumcised (“mutilate the flesh”) before they could be baptized. For the first few decades after Christ, the Christian Faith was considered a sect of Judaism. Paul, a Jew himself, insisted that circumcision was not required for Gentiles because Christ’s Sacrifice had liberated the world from the Old Law and ushered in the New Law of charity and grace. At the Council of Jerusalem AD 49/50, Peter and the Apostles agreed with Paul on this issue (cf. Acts 15), but the controversy continued in some circles. (CCC 1963, 1150)

Ch 3:3 True circumcision: This is Paul’s term for the “circumcision of the heart,” or the conversion received through Baptism. (CCC 527)

Ch 3:6 The word “church” here refers to the universal community of faith; in other usage, it can refer to the local church community or to the faithful assembled at liturgy. (CCC 752)

Ch 3:7-11 No pleasure, gift, talent, or riches can rival the invaluable blessing of possessing Christ. As Christian disciples, we are expected to put everything at the service of our relationship with Christ. The rewards in this life and the next make any sacrifice negligible. This total gift of self, which is at the heart of Christian discipleship, will always be inspired and accompanied by God’s grace. (CCC 133, 426-429, 1006, 1522)

Ch 3:9-11 Righteousness under the Law is contrasted with the Christlike holiness given by God through faith. The former is powerless to save us, while the latter is unlimited in power to save and sanctify. 

Power of his resurrection: Paul often emphasized the “power” of God through his mighty acts, the greatest of which was the raising of Christ from the dead. (CCC 648, 989)

Ch 3:12-16 Growing in holiness always involves our cooperation with grace and a correspondence to grace through an ongoing struggle. Our eyes must be fixed on the prize, which is eternal life; therefore, we must spare no effort, just as an athlete competes to reach a goal. (CCC 824, 827, 1030, 1054)

Ch 3:17-21 Christians are citizens of Heaven. We await our entrance into everlasting life, when Christ will change our material bodies into radiant and immortal bodies. Imitating the virtues of Christ and his saints with the aid of grace is the best means to progress toward this reward. (CCC 556, 999-1000, 1003, 2796)

Ch 4:1-7 We know that, upon our Lord’s return, he will glorify us in both body and soul if we remain faithful. This is cause for great hope and joy since we will one day see Christ face-to-face with our resurrected bodies. In the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer is largely a prayer of praise and thanksgiving; the word eucharist itself means “thanksgiving.” (CCC 1352-1354, 2633, 2637)

Ch 4:2-3 Almost as an aside, Paul urged reconciliation among women who had been involved in a dispute.

Clement: This may refer to St. Clement of Rome, who later became the fourth bishop of Rome.

The book of life: A theoretical listing in Heaven of all the saints, compiled by God and known by him alone. (CCC 2706)

Ch 4:8-9 Everything that is good, just, and virtuous reflects in a very finite and analogous way the goodness of God and thus can give us a glimmer of the glory of God. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, the existence of God can be deduced by observing the order, motion, causation, and beauty of the world around us. For the pagans, this can lead to faith; for the Christian, such observations confirm and build faith. (CCC 31-35, 1803)

Ch 4:10-23 The Philippians had been generous in supplying Paul’s needs, and he assured them that they will be amply rewarded. His rejoicing from the beginning of this letter carries through to the very end, as Paul explained he had learned to be satisfied with whatever happened to him. While the Greek Stoic thinkers held a similar philosophy of accepting whatever good or trouble came their way, their belief system let them away from a Christian perspective. Instead, Paul’s contentment came from the conviction and experience that all good is preeminently contained in Christ. With Christ living in him, there was no obstacle that could not be overcome. (CCC 2427, 2648)

Ch 4:13 God’s omnipotence and his interventions in the world is a great mystery. Despite our weakness, God can choose to make us strong and gifted so we may do his will and manifest his presence to the world. Thus, God should receive the praise and glory for anything that he accomplishes through us. (CCC 273, 308, 1460)

Ch 4:22 Caesar’s household: Another mention of Paul’s success in prison. Apparently, even some of Caesar’s servants or possibly family had embraced the Christian Faith. 

(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and glory. Thank you so much. Another day! Thank you, Lord, for another day! For this next step. For the Letter of James, for the conclusion of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we thank you God. We ask you to please help us to put these into practice. Help us to put this instruction into action in our lives. Help us to be not only hearers of the Word, but also doers of your Word. Lord God, let this time we’ve spent listening to your Word not simply wash over us and we just forget it and are unchanged by it, but help us to put this into practice. To put the love in our hearts into action in our lives. Help us to do all of this in the name of Jesus and for the glory of God the Father. Amen.”