• Education Forums

Bible Study Guide for Sunday, September 5, 2021

September 1, 2021


●     Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

●     Psalm 125

●     James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17

●     Mark 7:24-37

The majority of our readings this week are about the intersection of faith and works. This week’s Epistle is perhaps the most quoted part of scripture against Martin Luther’s notion that faith alone saves us. In fact Luther rather disdained the Epistle of James, calling it “The Epistle of Straw.” Nevertheless we hold James to be canon and therefore must wrestle with it seriously.

To me (and indeed to Luther) the relationship between faith and works has always been deeply, existentially troubling.  Personally it feels very apparent that there ought to be a correlation, nevertheless I often stand in judgment of myself. I went to college to study ethics so that I might understand morality better and hopefully be a better person. While I gained a better appreciation of virtue ethics, and I grew up a bit, does that ultimately help? Am I good enough? Can anyone even be adequate before their Lord and Creator? If there is a connection between faith and works and if I feel my works to be insufficient, do I truly have the faith I hope for?  In college my more Calvinist friends would say that works will simply flow out of faith. Maybe it's true but I find myself incapable of thinking or feeling that way. I long to do what is right, that I may please my God, but often in that attempt I find myself stuck in self-judgment which I know can bring Him no pleasure.

Interestingly, while the first three of this week's readings are in alignment on the centrality of righteousness, they all seem to disagree on what righteousness is. All are concerned with the wellbeing of the weak, the disadvantaged and the poor, but the motivations and expressions of the morality described are rather different. Proverbs has the most ancient notion of morality. It seems to stress honor and magnanimity, is rather this-worldly and mentions having a good name. Morality in the psalm is more spiritualized but still very communal, but it has a view of things that might relieve some of the spiritual angst I brought up before, the psalmist believes that trust in God will make one resolute, and able to be truly moral. He also proclaims that in God’s country God will entrust His scepter to the righteous, thus allowing his subjects to be righteous. While the former proposition is very comforting to me, the later is rather confusing. Firstly, the idea of God ruling over a nation is strange to a modern audience as God loves impartially. Secondly, if it is taken to be about the temporal world it seems to make the ability to be moral somewhat dependent on chance, which I find deeply disturbing.

Lastly there is James. James' chief concern is based in personal and communal interaction in the Church.  His notion of “The Good” is firmly based on a kind of dialectic between the Beatitudes and the Law. To James to act justly and (even more so) to act mercifully awakens the soul, and allows for faith.  It’s the first part of the psalm but backwards. It is rather implicit in Second James 14 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” but it seems to suggest that faith can be found through works, unlike Psalm 125:1 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.” in which being morally resolute and stalwart is a product of faith in God.

The interaction between Faith and Works is left a bit ambiguous then; however there does seem to be a relation. As to what is necessary for salvation, that seems to me at least to be putting the cart before the horse. If we are called to be just and merciful, kind, magnanimous and honorable, then let us be those things regardless of reward. We should have faith in God that He will save us and have hope in new life.  In the reading from James, mercy is recognized as superior to judgement. We can hope that to be true for God who is both infinitely merciful and infinitely just, and we can apply it to ourselves seeking to be merciful to our own persons rather than judgmental over our failures. – Ben Watts


  • Which reading’s view of morality do you find most personally compelling?
  • Do you ever find it hard to be spiritually merciful to yourself?How can we help our Brothers and Sisters in Christ to be spiritually kind to themselves or to others?


At "Educational Forums," enrich your spiritual journey by exploring our resources including videos of lectures, essays by priests, and other pieces about our faith, our church, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century.