Saved by Jesus and Doing the will of the Father

Homily for the Ninth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

What do I have to do to be saved? Jesus has done it all for us. He died to save us, to restore our relationship with the Father. We are reminded of this every time we come to Mass when we hear the words of Jesus during the Last Supper (Matt 26:27-28) repeated during the consecration,

…This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven…

We were reminded of this in our second reading, Paul’s letter to the Romans,

…all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…(Rom 3:23-24)

Now it is up to us to accept the salvation that Jesus has gained for us. Perhaps we could say it like this; the gift of salvation is offered to us in Jesus but we need to open the package and unwrap it to enjoy it.

We untied the package when we were baptized and we receive more of the package each time we receive the sacraments. But Jesus expects us to do something more than unwrap the package as he says in the Gospel today,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matt 7:21)

Jesus makes it clear that it is not enough to just listen to his words; we are to live his message,

…everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. (Matt 7:26-27)

Believing in Jesus then is only half opening the package, only half unwrapping the gift. To completely open and unwrap the package Jesus expects us to “do the will” of his Father in heaven. Through Moses, as we heard in our first reading (Deut 11:26-28), God warned his Chosen People that if they did not obey his commandments they could look forward to being cursed but if they obeyed the commandments of God they could look forward to being blessed. So both Old and New Testaments ask us to not just believe but live our faith.

We could then ask, “If both Old and New Testament are agreed that how we live our lives has consequences for us and that believing is not enough, what does Paul mean in our second reading, in his letter to the Romans (Rom 3:28), that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law?” Paul is saying we need faith in Jesus but not the works of the law. The works of the law are all the Jewish laws in the Old Testament. Jewish writers listed them and found 613 laws in the Old Testament. There are laws on all sorts of things such as laws about the temple in Jerusalem, laws for priests, laws about sacrificing animals in the temple, laws about tithing, laws about which animals were clean and unclean, laws about all the Jewish feasts, laws about circumcision, laws for the family. But the big debate at the time of Paul was if pagans coming into the Church needed to be circumcised before they were baptized. Paul answered, as we heard in our second reading, by saying a person is justified apart from works of the law (Rom 3:28). Paul is saying you do not need to be circumcised to be saved; have faith in Jesus. In other words, Paul is saying that anyone who is not a Jew does not need to become a Jew firstly by circumcision before becoming a Christian through baptism. If you are not a Jew, go right ahead and get baptized without circumcision; believe in Jesus.

But we know what human nature is like, how some people would like to take the easy option. So as time went by some people began to distort Paul’s message by saying it doesn’t matter how we live our lives, just believe in Jesus and you will be saved. So more teaching was necessary. We find this in the Letter of James. James asks if it is okay to have faith and not live as a Christian, not do Christian works, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (Jas 2:14) James goes on to explain that believing is not enough because even the demons believe in God (Jas 2:19). He concludes his explanation by saying that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone (Jas 2:24). James says a person is justified by both Christian works and faith, by living as a Christian, and not by faith alone. So faith alone is not enough to be saved, according to James, according to the New Testament. If you search the Scriptures for the phrase “faith alone” that passage in James is the only place where you will find it. The only place where “faith alone” is mentioned in Scripture is to say that “faith alone” is not enough to be saved! If that is the case how did Luther come up with his teaching on faith alone? He added the word “alone” to his German translation of Rom 3:28, the last line of our second reading today, but it is not in the original Greek New Testament. (So halten wir nun dafür, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, allein durch den Glauben; - allein/alone has been added) The Letter of James teaches us that we are to live our faith, to put it into practice in our daily lives.

(Since this homily was delivered Pope Benedict XVI stated, "Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love." Note the important word "if." Faith and charity must go together; the phrase "faith alone" is true only if faith is not opposed to charity. This is, in essence, what James stated in Jas 2:14, faith and works must go together.)

(Here I give some examples of living our faith).

In the first reading we heard God giving instruction through Moses to the Hebrews to wear a pendant on their foreheads to help them “take these words of mine into your heart and soul” (Deut 11:18). We have sacred images in our homes, obviously not to worship them, but to help raise our minds and hearts to God, to help us live our faith and put it into practice. Indeed with the possibility of so many disturbing images of trash and filth from TV and Internet it is good to have sacred images in our homes to raise our minds to God, to help us live our faith and not just believe.

What do I have to do to be saved? Jesus has done it all for us. We untied the package when we were baptized and we receive more of the package each time we receive the sacraments. But Jesus expects us to do something more than unwrap the package as he says in the Gospel today,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matt 7:21)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2008

This homily was delivered in a parish in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Below I invite you to view a short movie demonstrating the search for "faith alone" in Scripture. It may take a few seconds for the video to load depending on your internet connection; thanks for your patience. You may need to click the play button twice.