What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has “no power to save.” The writer of the Epistle is very clear. Faith may be the central response in our relationship to God; but faith, like love, must find expression in our actions if it is to be real.
If I see someone starving and, making a quick getaway, bless that person with “Good-bye and good luck,” I have a faith problem. To say, “I hope you keep warm and well fed,” but to do nothing to help others in their bodily needs, is to have a thoroughly lifeless faith.
There are parts of scripture I may want to reject. “You cannot mean this. You will never demand this.” Yet faith does have its demands. It makes claims on us. Its implications are daunting.
The challenge faith puts to us in relating to the poor is no more scary than its challenge to the ways we relate to God. There is a pain in the heart of Christian faith itself, since its object is the mystery of God’s love revealed in Jesus’ death.
When the journey of faith seems too arduous, when we have “compassion-fatigue” before the sea of human suffering, when it seems we are not even up to believing in Christ anyway, it is good for us to remember the struggle of poor old Peter.
Jesus, recall, asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter then makes his great act of faith in Jesus as the Messiah. But immediately after Jesus says that he will suffer and be put to death, Peter resists the implication of his profession of faith. “You can’t be asking us to accept the cross.” Jesus rebukes Peter. “Get behind me, Satan. You are judging not by God’s standards, but human ones.”
Now that would be enough to stop me in my tracks. Not only is Christ asking the impossible, but when I simply bring up the problem, he rebukes me and calls me a “Satan.”
But Peter simply “gets behind” Jesus and keeps following, no matter how confused he may feel or how impossible the task may seem. He still follows—in his inadequacy, in his failure, with all the limitations of his merely “human” way of thinking.
The poor will always be with us. So also will the physical and moral evils that make them so. Our efforts are dwarfed before their immensity.
Our faith as well far outdistances our capacity. It asks, in effect, that we somehow give up our very lives, embrace the cross that Christ himself bore, and follow him.
In the end, it is not our task to end the sin and suffering of the world or to stop the mindless march of violence. It is, rather, to follow a different way: to take opportunities, small as they may be, to reduce hatred and carnage, to let go fears, and to entrust even our poor inadequacy to the hands of God. This is the taking up of our daily cross.