A colleague once asked me why, if I had to volunteer, I didn’t do something a bit more glamorous than prison work. I’m not sure quite what she had in mind!
In James 2, James is quite clear that believers in Christ “must not show favouritism”. His words reach out to us over the centuries – as relevant now as they were all those years ago. Doesn’t it often seem simpler to deal first with the articulate, sensible-looking person and then with the shy, shabby, stuttering one? And yet if we do that, says the plain-speaking James, we discriminate and become “judges with evil thoughts”.
It’s not up to us to pick and choose, but to pray and discern where God is directing us. How blessed we are that Prison Fellowship offers us so many opportunities to serve some of the most neglected and despised people in our society and show them Christ’s love.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?” What do you think of when you hear the word “deeds”? In my brain, other words join in and swirl around – mighty deeds, daring exploits, noble achievements. I have visions of brave knights riding to the rescue or of pilgrims undaunted by hobgoblins or foul fiends!
Such “deeds” may provide exciting headlines, but they are most definitely not the stuff of everyday life; surely not what James means here. He gives the example of one of the simplest of actions, or deeds. If we notice that our neighbour is lacking some basic necessity we should not just commiserate and move on but get ourselves into gear and do something. Simple, yes, but still all too easy to ignore, or put off to a more convenient time. Yet a time that is more convenient for us may be too late for our neighbour.
Why do so many of us feel hesitant in such situations? Maybe we lack confidence – “What, me? But I can’t do that sort of thing!” Perhaps we fear being rejected or getting it wrong.
I wondered when I read this passage what sort of person could claim to have faith but never took any action. Maybe someone who reads all the latest ideas and engages in deep theological discussions, I thought. But maybe also someone who can’t get beyond their own fears and worries to see their neighbour clearly. In St Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells us that someone who hears his words and acts on them is like a builder who digs deep, strong foundations laid upon rock. It’s not that the builder is particularly strong or brave, but rather it is the amount of care and effort he puts in that makes the house so stable and solid. And so it is with us – by taking action, however apparently small or insignificant our “deeds”, we can not only show to the world a true and living faith but also build ever-stronger, more God-filled lives.
Anne Marriott is a letter writer and member of PF Feltham.
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