Humbly welcome the Word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
Perhaps the full impact of this simple recommendation from James escapes us. Thus, let me substitute the term “Word” with the noun “Jesus” and see what happens. After all, this is what God reveals to us about His Son Jesus: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
As it is so, do we feel any differently? Humbly welcome Jesus who has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of Jesus and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
Why should we be doers of Jesus?
I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:15)
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. (Matthew 7:24)
Clearly, Jesus points at Himself as the model, the pattern of our doing His Word, at the moment of His total self-giving: after washing our feet—which is the most humiliating type of service possible—and after the ultimate type of service, which is the giving of His life for us on the cross. Therefore, the bottom line, the benchmark against which we should assess our performance as “doers of the Word,” (doers as Jesus does) is the new commandment of loving each other as He loved us on the cross.
And since such a prospect, such a benchmark is quite outside the range of our performance and since we are pretty sure that we can go through our entire life without ever coming close to giving up our life for someone else, we either go through the formality of perfunctorily accepting this most lofty challenge or we dismiss it as an exaggeration, as a figure of speech. However, were we to take into consideration the tremendous amount of loving and serving that is so sorely needed in this crazy world of ours, we would begin to entertain the thought that Jesus, directly, and also through James and Moses, is addressing each one of us personally, hoping for a positive response to His challenge.
Yet, it is possible that, at the present time, although we consider ourselves disciples of the Lord Jesus, none of us is at the stage of being ready to do the Word to the ultimate extent required by the new commandment: to give up our life for someone else. Hence, let us face the real possibility that, so far, in the factual living out of our Christian calling, we might have proven Isaiah right: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. Rather than heeding James: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. (James 1:22)
Wow! If we are serious about our relationship with the Lord Jesus, we must wonder what percentage of living out our faith might be just hot air! How deeply entrenched might our delusion be? Aware of our limitations and of how hard it is to implement the new commandment, Jesus quotes Moses to us: Do not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.
Obviously, fearful of God, we might never subtract from His commandments, at least not intentionally. However, quite a few of us could be deluding themselves into thinking that by adding a lot of devotional stuff to what the Lord commands, they could look good before other people; they could please God and feel justified, perhaps even on the way to sainthood without being open to what the new commandment truly demands of them.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we do not intend to live out the demands of the new commandment with full reliance on the Holy Spirit, we should stop our delusion right now. Let us face it: to spend a lot of time on our knees, to come to church often, to say a lot of prayers by rote, to adhere to many religious practices and devotions is much, much easier and, seemingly, more rewarding than to attend to the needs of certain people, the needs in our immediate family (perhaps), the needs of those whom we consider hostile to us, those who hurt or exasperate us.
The stark fact is that the only way to be genuine doers of Jesus’ Word is by empting the heart of the long list of bad attitudes mentioned by Him (Mark 7:21-23) and by replacing them with sincere, genuine interest and care for whomever we are expected to love and serve.
Realistically, we should start “small.” James, always so practical, suggests to start with care for orphans and widows. We might want to add also the people in mission lands who lead such subhuman lives that we cannot even imagine.
Little by little, as our heart gets freed of dross and selfishness, our eyesight will improve and we will be able to see Jesus’ features in everyone whom God has placed and still places in our life as “our neighbor.” All those “sights’ will turn into opportunities to prove to ourselves that we are not honoring God just with our lips, but that our hearts are themselves all taken by Jesus’ immediate and compelling needs.
May the Eucharist, the Flesh of our God which we consume today enable us to worship Him with our hearts and attend to the needs of His pained and hurting flesh all around us. As the Gospel of John (13:15) notes: I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.