Gamblers have made that phrase as popular as “Put your money where your mouth is.” It’s biblical too, and the theme of this Sunday’s liturgy. Christ’s disciple James uses a far more poetic version in the second reading (Jas 2:14-18):
“… faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
He goes on:
“Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”
Here James is expressing the heart of many good people—those with and without religion. Good people tend to have a code to which they adhere. Doing the right thing gives their life on this earth…worth.
One of the most powerful examples of this could be found in the media coverage of the late Senator John McCain’s life story. Almost all of these accounts tell us how McCain endured five years of torture as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He could have won early release ahead of fellow prisoners thanks to his father’s high military rank in the Pacific theater, but McCain refused the privilege. He stayed faithful to the military code, “Leave no man behind.”
John McCain was both celebrated for his heroism in wartime and damned for some of the choices he made in his private life—particularly his self-proclaimed greatest moral failure of marital infidelity. But for those of us quick to judge our fellow humans for such evil, ask yourself: who chooses evil? Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, puts our deliverance to evil best in her classic work:
“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”
That’s why we need an overarching code to help us navigate from evil back to the right path. We all have daily opportunities, large and small, to demonstrate our faithfulness to a code. How about this one our parents taught us: “Always say ‘Thank You.” Gratitude for our blessings is both a code and a lifestyle by which we can all demonstrate the word of God in action. The simple act of saying grace before a meal served in a restaurant is as clear a statement of gratitude as you can find. But it’s a rare sight because we all tend to fear the derision of strangers who are scandalized by such “holier than thou” attitudes. They don’t realize the act of saying grace is an act of saving grace. The prophet Isaiah offers words of encouragement for sticking to your code via Sunday’s first reading (Is 50:5-9a):
The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right.”
But it is Jesus who, through Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk 8:27-35), raises the ante for anyone putting their life on the line by living The Word:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
Lives are being lost and found every day in the far reaches of his modern-day church—in God-hating places like China and North Korea—where the faithful of all faiths risk their lives to live their beliefs. May we all remember their brave gambles against evil as we joyfully and proudly put up our thanks for our daily bread.