Faith in Christ, rather than our actions, is what justifies
By: By Father Dominic Garramone, OSB
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 13
2 Samuel 12:7-10,13; Psalm 32:1-2,5,7,11; Galatians 2:16,19-21; Luke 7:36 — 8:3
Anyone who reads the letters of Paul will notice that he has a thing about justification. He writes about it constantly, and explains and defends his views repeatedly, vehemently even. But he has good reason for his concern: he is in the middle of a huge collision between religion cultures and traditions.
The important issue for Paul’s readers is of course, “What must we do to be saved?” For Paul himself, the matter is somewhat more theologically complex. His concern is threefold: redemption (being “bought back” or “redeemed” from our past slavery to the power of evil), salvation (liberation from sin and its consequences), and justification (being restored to right relationship with God).
The Galatians were being told by some missionaries that to be justified, they had to follow all the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. But as Paul notes, if justification comes from the law, then Christ would not have needed to die. Rather, salvation, redemption and justification all result from our participation in the Paschal Mystery.
We have been baptized into the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus; thus Paul is able to speak so powerfully: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”
EXPRESSIONS OF FAITH
Faith in Christ, then, is what justifies, rather than anything we can do. But that doesn’t mean that once we are saved, what we do or how we behave is irrelevant to our salvation. On the contrary, what we do (“good works”) is precisely the means by which we express our faith is Jesus. Elsewhere in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that what truly matters is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
The penitent woman in the Gospel passage is an outstanding example of this concept of faith working through love. She demonstrates her faith in Jesus’ power to forgive sins by her humility in washing and anointing his feet. She never says a word, but her loving service speaks louder than the Pharisee’s hospitality, such that Jesus says to the other guests, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”
To the woman herself, he declares plainly: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
And to us, he commands: “Go and do the same.”
Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, is a monk of St. Bede Abbey in Peru, where he serves as subprior and choirmaster. He also heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy. Contact him at FRDOM@st-bede.com.