What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:14-17
The letter of James was a bone of contention for Luther, who once referred to it as an “epistle of straw” because he felt it did not reflect the Gospel message that we are saved by grace and not by our own actions. But considering the practices of the church at the time Luther lived–with some church leaders their noble patrons making a good living selling indulgences for the forgiveness of one’s sins–you can understand that Luther could read James as if it were putting emphasis on our own ability to “earn” or “buy” a place in God’s kingdom. But even Luther later dropped that reference to James in later publications of his writings.
When I read this passage from James, my mind always makes an association with Jesus’ reference to himself as the Vine (John 15:5: I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing). A robust vine or fruit tree doesn’t make a choice to bear fruit–it just can’t help itself because that’s what its purpose is. I think as Christians, when we are healthy branches of the Jesus vine, we also just can’t help but produce fruit–do good works in Jesus’ name–because the love and the life he gives us make us realize that it is our purpose. The good works we do are the fruit of our life in Jesus.
So, if you are fortunate enough to have an over-productive garden this year, or you are the recipient of extra zucchini gifted from the garden of a friend, let that reminder of abundant fruit inspire you to continue to grow and blossom in God’s garden!
Peace to you!
Mary Beth Commisso
Readings for the week
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Sunday, September 6, 2009–Lectionary 23–Pentecost 14