In the Gospel reading today from Luke 11, Jesus continues to pronounce woes on the scholars of the law. These are some pretty scathing remarks. “Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.”
Today’s first reading from Romans 3 contains passages that have been somewhat controversial among believers. One in particular has to do with justification. St. Paul writes, “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Some Christians take that to mean that the moment one professes faith in Christ Jesus he is justified, or made right in the sight of God, and that his eternal salvation is secured forever; from then on his works have no bearing. But what were these “works of the law?” St. Paul is referring to the 600+ Levitical laws that Jews were required to follow, many of them having to do with ritual cleansing and other exterior actions. St. Paul was making the point that these exterior actions were worthless apart from faith in Christ Jesus. Without faith in Christ Jesus, no amount of “works of the law” mattered.
We are called to good works. The Scriptures are very clear on that. In fact, just a few sentences earlier, in Romans 2, St. Paul wrote, "God...will repay everyone according to his works." But it is not these good works that will get us into heaven. It is our faith in Christ Jesus. St. James says that “faith without works is dead.” So we think of faith and works not as being mutually exclusive. It is not an either/or proposition. It is both/and. We accept the gift of faith, which leads us to good works in joy and gratitude for the victory won for us by Christ Jesus.
Father, we know that we can never work our way into heaven. We thank you for the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, and put all our faith in Him. May that faith show through our good works each day. Amen.
A Minute in the Church: Back to the Basics will be available October 22! Be sure to get a copy for your pastor and ask if your parish can give them away as Christmas gifts to the faithful!