Let me tell you the story of the empty chair. A priest comes to see a very sick senior man after receiving a call from his daughter for a visit. Entering the room, the priest sees an empty chair beside the man’s bed, and he says, “Oh, you know about my visit, and you even have a chair ready for me?” Replying, the sick man tells the priest to close the door and come closer.
Leaning forward, the sick man tells the priest that the chair is not for him but God’s chair. He explains saying that he has always doubted the power of prayer until one of his friends tells him that he should pray with faith believing that God is as close as someone sitting beside him and listening.
The sick man concludes by saying that he has come to believe not just that his friend said it because he feels the presence of God on that chair each time he prays to Him. He further adds that he is always careful not to be laud when he talks to God on the chair because his daughter would think that his sickness is getting to his head.
The priest could hardly say anything in response to the man’s overwhelming narrative about the empty chair, in his mind, he thought, “I think I should do more about my faith.”
After that, the priest said the prayer for the sick over him and encouraged him to continue his interaction with God on the empty chair. Two days after, the daughter calls the priest to tell him that his dad passed, but one thing she could not understand was why he chose to die leaning on that chair in his room. But the priest could tell!
Today, the readings draw our attention to the virtues of faith and faithfulness. For a very long time, most Christian teachers, Bible scholars, and theologians confuse these interrelated terms by ascribing the same meaning to them. Faith is not the same as faithfulness, but they complement each other to form a perfect Christian life.
Faith is not Faithfulness
The eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews serves as one of the significant resources for the explanation of faith in the Bible. The Second Reading today (Heb. 11:1-2,8-19) begins by giving us a beautiful definition, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” The passage describes what faith entails with Abraham, who followed God, not knowing the final destination. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that faith is a gift from God; a supernatural virtue infused by him (CCC. 153). When we have faith, we believe before we understand not the other way.
Faithfulness, on the other hand, is our faith response to God in obedience. It means adherence to God’s direction. If we should go back to Abraham, we understand that he believed God when He asked him to leave his father’s house to a place God would show him though he did not know the location. (Genesis 12:1 ff). Going further, Abraham accepts God’s directive to sacrifice his son Issac; at this point, Abraham shows his faithfulness; in other words, he expressed in concrete action the faith he has in God.
Furthermore, faithfulness relates closely to doing the right thing as opposed to the wrong thing. The Book of Deuteronomy (32:4) says that God is faithful and does no wrong.
Moving from Faith to Faithfulness
If we liken faith to the computer software, faithfulness should be the hardware, and both are essential for optimal functioning. We have already mentioned that faith is a supernatural gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Faithfulness, on the other hand, is the fruit the Holy Spirit in our lives building on the faith we have (Galatian 5:22). God wants us to move from faith to faithfulness because He is faithful (1 Cor.1:9). Put in another way; God wants us to make our faith actionable.
While the Second Reading makes references to the faith of Abraham and the other patriarchs, in the Gospel Reading (Luke 12:32-48), our Lord Jesus Christ tells us about faithfulness using the analogy of servants who await their master’s return from a wedding and ready to open the door when he knocks. Explaining the parable further after the question of Peter, our Lord makes it clear that the faithful servant is the one whom the master finds active when he returns; the one who adheres and obeys.
From our Lord’s instruction, we understand that our faithfulness confirms our faith. It is not enough to answer a Christian; it is also essential for us to practice the Christian life. We often profess faith in God, but when we face critical times, we lose the consciousness of our faithfulness to him. St. Paul says, “ If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful for He cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13).
The parable of the servants waiting for the return of master helps us to understand that our titles and positions would become irrelevant if we do not respond to the call to be faithful. It is clear from the narrative that our faith should go beyond our emotional exclamations and show itself in how we respond to God. St. James was right when he mentions that faith without good works is dead (James 2:14-26). We could also say that faith without faithfulness is inadequate in the Christian life.
As we march into a new week, let us continue to look forward to the grace of God to assist us in the constant growth in our faith and faithfulness to God. God is still searching for faithful men and women (Psalm 12:1; Prov. 20:6). May God bless you and grant you abundant blessings in the week ahead.