…Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.
This letter of James, was written to the Christian communities that had to disperse outside of Palestine. They met people every day that did not know Jesus, and believed in other gods. A dispersion is still going on in our multicultural, secularized world of today. So his words are important to Christians of our day. Here James stresses the importance of Christian action, the concrete practice of love. His point is that we must not merely listen to the Word; we must act on it.
Some of the youth in our congregation who had been on work camp trips, and my grandson from his congregation shared what they had experienced when they helped the poor with projects to rebuild their homes, or to bring food to starving people. They each told how they realized that the poor and needy people in those settings found more to be joyful about and more to give praise to God about than many people who had never experienced such devastation. They learned that these who were hungry, and needy in so many ways were filled with faith and wanted to do anything they could to help others and those who had come to help them. The needy in those settings worked beside them in their labors, and they were ever so grateful for the help they were receiving. These youth felt that they gained and learned more from the ones they went to serve than they gave to those they served.
Every week when we worship, and every time we read the Bible, God’s Word is being planted in us. It is the good news that Christ loved us and offered himself to God for us. That seed cannot grow and produce fruit unless we water the seed and work the soil of our hearts with the will to serve others and bring the love of God to others in what we do. God’s Word will not grow to produce acts of love unless we tend it with study, prayer, and obedience. We can live in love because he loved us first, but in order to do that we must welcome this Word of life and truth as a precious treasure, that has the power to save our lives and the lives of others.
Receiving the Word also means putting it into practice. Meditating on it or contemplating it is not enough. There is a direct relationship between believing and acting. James says that people are justified by their works of faith, and not by their faith alone. Faith in God is made known to others more by what we do than what we say. That old saying “actions are worth a thousand words,” certainly holds true. Our actions are not meant to be a show, but the overflow of God’s love that comes from our hearts for others in response to their needs.
Putting love into action is closely linked to our worship of God. Solidarity with the poor is not only an ethical need, but it is a way to encounter the Lord, who identified himself with the lowest of the low. One cannot separate action and prayer. True faith in God is never a flight from the realities of life, but a way to walk with them and help others carry their burdens. When concrete acts of love are given, the language of faith is rediscovered, powerful and meaningful. That is when the words of the Gospel become flesh, and can really touch people’s hearts beyond our Churches and change their lives.
In the words of the song “Ubi caritas Deus ibi est”, Where charity and love are found, God is there.
- Who are “the people in distress” in your community? Who needs your acts of God’s love?
- When have you experienced this love in action? Who are the people you know whose lives reflect God’s love in action?