An old boatman in Scotland had the job of taking passengers across a lake in his rowboat. One day, one of the persons on board inquired concerning the oars the boatman was using. One oar had the word FAITH carved on it, and the other WORKS.
The old man said, “I’ll show you the reason.” So he put one oar into the water, the one marked FAITH, and began to row. The boat would go in circles. Then he took the oar out and put in the one marked WORKS and began to row. The same thing happened; the boat went in the opposite circle.
Then he picked up both oars, FAITH and WORKS, placed them in the water, and began to row. As he pulled these oars together, the boat started to move forward in a straight line. He told the passenger who questioned him, ‘That is the way in the Christian life — one is no good without the other.’
Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians: God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done. Yet, in today’s second reading, James tells us: What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
Are they really at odds? They are not.
Jesus tells us we must take up our cross and follow him. He is our savior, but each one of us must accept that great gift of salvation by following him. It’s a personal choice we all must make. It’s our answer to Jesus’ question: Who do YOU say that I am?
Having faith in Jesus and following Jesus are not the same! Our call is not to watch and admire from a distance but to join in the parade. Jesus is not some great clown who puts on a show for the religiously inclined. Rather, he is the Messiah who calls men and women to walk the trail of life with him; to work up a sweat and get their hands dirty on behalf of the guilt-ridden, the down-trodden, the broken, the bruised, and the rejected, so God’s love might become a reality for all his children. I came across a poem that I think sums up too many of us.
I was hungry,
and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.
I was imprisoned,
and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked,
and you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick,
and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless,
and you preached to me
of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely,
and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so holy,
so close to God.
But I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.