Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (James 2:14-18) transports me to an orchestral auditorium where Opus, faith’s accompanist, is given center stage. The Latin word “opus” is an interesting word; it has come to mean a great composition of classical music, but its literal meaning is a work, labor, exertion. It started out applying to farm work, and later extended to religious acts, and still later to symphonic music. While faith, not work, always gets top billing as the principle soloist of salvation in maestro Paul’s compositions (We are saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast), James is a different composer. He sets a different mood with his score and gives other instruments the opportunity to shine (Faith, if not accompanied by works, is dead). In James’ arrangement, working to fill the hungry and clothe the naked are living crescendo signs of the spirit, while empty words of peace are signs of a death knell ringing.
I think James is encouraging us here to see our lives as an opus, a great composition with themes focusing on compassion and justice. Faith is still a principle instrument, but is not performing solo; faith is backed up by a whole symphony of accompanists. The aim is to have the whole orchestra in tune and in sync, for our actions to be in harmony with our faith. All sections play important roles in an opus — the horns, the percussion, the strings. Likewise, all sections of our lives play important parts in demonstrating our faith — the goal is to create consonance between our confessions of faith and our career choices, resonance between our devotional lives and decisions of how we budget our money, harmony between our treatment of loved ones and our treatment of enemies. To the extent all of our life choices and our deepest values are synchronized with Jesus’ embodied example of compassion care, it signals an authentic and enlivening opus of faith. In contrast, discord and cacophony occur when we put faith up on a pedestal and then let the world and the culture score all the other aspects of our lives. Ack!
I loved the comic strip Bloom County back in the 80s. My favorite character was the naïve penguin, Opus. His actions were always in sync with his inner faith, characterized by innocence and openness. In a Bloom County Christmas book, A Wish for Wings that Work, Opus hopes for Santa to grant his greatest wish, to be able to fly. I get the sense that this is what James is hoping for as well, for wings of faith that actually work, that enable us to get the orchestration of our lives so finely tuned that we soar through kingdom life. Goodnight, Opus.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Seeing the Signs.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.