Faith, Works, and the Deep Waters of Evangelization

saint peter, fisherman, st peter, peter, faith

After he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” (Luke 5:4-5 NABRE)

The command to go deeper in the quest for a sufficient catch of fish, after working at it all night, must have seemed counter-productive to Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen. He acted on faith by obeying a command that didn’t readily make sense to him. After making his point, based on his experience and knowledge, he then capitulates in deference to Jesus. The rest of the story shows a net-breaking catch and provides an excellent example of how faith and works go together.

“We Walk by Faith”

Since the Protestant Reformation, there has been a lot of ink spilled and words spoken about faith versus works as they pertain to our salvation. The above passage is an excellent example of how faith and works can operate in the lives of all followers of Christ. Acting (working) on what faith reveals is vital in Christian life and involves daily prayer and ongoing discernment. We can see in scripture and in the lives of the Saints examples of faith in action.

Peter, an accomplished fisherman, did what his master commanded, albeit reluctantly. Having already been at it all night, re-casting the nets would most likely have been a waste of time and resources.

In 2 Corinthians 5:7, St. Paul wrote a phrase that has been quoted throughout the centuries: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Saint Peter acted on his faith in Jesus, but only after contending with what his “sight” was telling him. The command to “put out into the deep water” may have seemed useless, but was put into action anyway with astonishing results.

Faith and Its Works

To walk by faith in the midst of daily life has its challenges. Today, in the 21st century, the struggle between what we perceive through faith and what we “see” through reason can seem to be at odds with one another. By placing faith above our natural ability to reason, we can begin to move from adherence to a static set of beliefs to an active outworking of what faith compels and inspires. Saint James the Greater speaks to the mutual reliance and complementarity of faith and works:

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14-17 RSVCE)

The Higher Gifts

The “both / and” duality of the God-man, present in the person of Christ and embedded in His Incarnation continues in the ongoing incarnation that is realized in the Body of Christ, the church. The diversity of gifts, bestowed on every baptized person, are to be used by all under the umbrella of the threefold ministry of Jesus: Priest, Prophet, and King. Saint Paul gives us a blueprint for the work of discipleship and evangelization through Faith:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31 RSVCE)

Once we discern our particular “higher gifts”, we can then engage in the works that flow from Faith under God’s direction. Discerning God’s will, in most cases, is a long process with no instant or easy answers. Following God’s direction also requires daily prayer and faithful application with openness to any and all adjustments and corrections that will always be necessary this side of Heaven.

Let us pray that our works be informed by Faith, and actuated through Divine assistance as we “put out into the deep” of discipleship and evangelization.

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