Devotional Day 17
But are you willing to acknowledge, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless? Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.James 2:20-26
Following St. James’ Nautical Route
We got up in time to make breakfast, knowing from the conversation when buying tickets that the promised food on the boat was nothing keto-friendly. Because almost everyone was going on the same boat (departing at 8 am), with the port only being a short walk away it was surprising to see some out the door before 7 am. Was it a habit? A hope for good seats instead of good beds? We left around 7:30, walking to the dock with plenty of time to spare, and having no trouble getting good seats on the top deck. In the open air we quite glad for the hats and jackets we made sure to wear to counter the wind. Behind us sat two American women, and I chatted with the one from Philadelphia as we awaited departure.
We passed by the mussel industry (observing it in action) and under a major bridge. Then we began seeing the crosses. The view of both shores was beautiful as we followed the route tradition says St. James’ remains were taken by his disciples to get him to Santiago de Compostela. With 17 stone crosses along the banks (though not all visible), it is said to be the only maritime Way of the Cross in the world. I wandered to different parts of the boat for different photo shots. Hot coffee on the lower deck warmed me up after time in the wind. The Mexican ladies were on board as well, and it felt meaningful to share the special journey.
As I looked over the water, I thought about James’ examples of faith and works.
Abraham and Rahab
James gives two examples of faith and works that starkly contrast each other. Abraham maintained a long-term, intimate relationship with God. In many ways his life was easy, with an ever-growing household, constantly increasing in servants and sheep. But he also had a long-term hope that got to the point of (human) impossibility—having a son. God had given him a promise, but did not fulfill it for many years. Yet Abraham was steadfast and eventually that promise was fulfilled.
With all his blessings it may have been easy to believe in and obey God. For his faith to be tested and stretched there had to be a trial, asking him to give up his son, the ultimate fulfillment of that impossible promise. Abraham was put in a position to choose to surrender and trust God or hold tightly to what was most dear to him. If he gave up his son, would God’s love and promises still hold fast? We now know it did; in the midst of Abraham’s faith and willingness to sacrifice, his son was spared and became the ancestor of Jesus.
In contrast to Abraham’s lifelong journey of overall righteousness through his relationship with God was Rahab, identified multiple times as a prostitute and not a Hebrew. She didn’t grow up hearing Scripture and clearly lived a sinful life. But she made a bold, risky move to help the Hebrew spies escape and asked for salvation in return. She chose to follow God, rejecting her community and culture. And indeed she and her family were spared when the rest of the city was destroyed, and they became integrated into the Israelite people. She too was an ancestor of Jesus!
Today’s “Life Long” Christians
Both of these were examples of faith in practice, living out the surrender to God’s lordship and trust in Him, even though their backgrounds and lifestyles were exact opposites. We see this variety in today’s church. Some grow up in Christian homes, learning Bible verses and going to Sunday School from a young age. Perhaps learning to follow biblical principles shapes their overall lifestyle and choices. But true faith emerges when “religion” is not just following their parents’ traditions, but making their own choice to follow Jesus.
Growing in faith requires maintaining a close relationship with God and trusting in His promises—living life based on His love. Eventually that faith is tested in crisis: can they surrender what is most important in their life back to God? It’s not about constantly being “good enough” to earn salvation. It’s about faith in God being central in all decisions and all actions, out of love for Him.
Then we have the dramatic conversion stories. Like Rahab, they lived in sin, even if sins were accepted by the surrounding culture. But something shook up their world, placing them in a position of desperation, realizing that the only way out was salvation through Christ. Dramatic, life-changing actions were necessary, not just saying a few words. Not only was there a specific, decisive move to make, their life was permanently changed—there was no going back. Again, it wasn’t just stating belief in God’s power (Rahab’s entire city was afraid of God, recognizing His power). Faith in action was a permanent transformation.
James is never saying works are more important than faith. He is helping us see what authentic faith actually looks like. It’s not calling yourself a Christian because your family was Christian. Nor is it believing in God’s existence. It is about faith being central to an entire lifestyle, whether learned gradually or introduced dramatically. This centrality is tested in times of crisis, and our actions and reactions demonstrate the authenticity of our faith
Remainder of the Restful Day
Upon arrival at the dock, Dean and I walked to Padron, only 2 km away and where the spiritual variant reconvened with the main route. We were surprised to be the first to arrive at the municipal albergue, situated right next to the prominent cathedral, knowing others from the same boat were expecting to stay there. With another two hours before the doors opened, we decided to take turns exploring the city and guarding the bags. A couple of the Italians also arrived on my watch, and decided to leave their bags, as I jokingly offered to watch them for 5 Euro/30 minutes. They offered to bring some wine back instead.
Dean returned after about an hour, and I walked all the way up the hill to a chapel and statue of St. James. This was apparently one of the spots where his body was kept on the way to Santiago. Upon coming down I saw a fountain known for its sacred water, and watched as people filled their jugs, perhaps hoping to take home a blessing of healing. Close by was the lower cathedral with open doors, where I got a stamp and then walked around viewing the many paintings and sculptures. Many seemed to follow a violent theme, from martyrs to crusaders.
Sharing El Camino Community
The upper cathedral was still locked, but I looked around the outside before returning to the albergue. We got first dibs on the beds, taking the lower bunks at the far end for more privacy and a view from the window. I then took a nap, during which time Dean and the Italians shared the promised wine (leaving a glass for me). Later in the afternoon we found them again in the kitchen, making pasta in the single available pan and sharing it with a diverse group from Mexico, Brazil, and the Korean American woman we’d met the day before. At one point they asked for a song in Korean, and she proceeded to sing beautifully and emotionally, having multiple people in tears without understanding a word. She said afterwards it was praise to God, who knows our hearts.
Dean and I then went out to buy our own dinner-makings, re-using the pot and the single available plate for chicken fajitas (the kitchen supplies grew more sparse the further north we went). It was 7:30 pm as we were finishing, and we went next door for the Mass, inviting a few others to come. A father and his 10-year-old son from Poland attended, clearly familiar with the Catholic practices.
Today’s Faith and Works in Life
Standing outside afterwards we talked about religion and faith, hearing how it was (or wasn’t) significant to the other pilgrims. Along the road we’ve had many conversations about faith and beliefs. Santiago de Compostela came from the Catholic tradition, so it was understandable that the most common faith declared among pilgrims was Catholicism. But many who identified themselves as Catholic did not live out their profession of faith.
The conversation extended inside with a Latino (I’ll call him José) from San Diego who identified himself as Catholic, but noted he wasn’t consistent with religious practices. Sometimes going to Mass was purely for the opportunity to see his aunt and uncle, faithful attendees. Although he knew how to pray the Lord’s Prayer and the prayer to Mary, he didn’t do it consistently. José had a friend whom he saw as “very religious,” who, when he was in a time of crisis, gave him a book of prayers, but he never read it. We talked a bit about faith vs. works, in line with today’s passage. I shared how what was most important to me was my relationship with Jesus, prayer being an actual conversation, and dependence on Him being critical when I faced challenges.
I asked if he had any nieces or nephews close to him. José recounted the way they would run to hug him when he came over. When they hadn’t heard from him for a while, one asked why he hadn’t called, and proceeded to draw a picture for him. That same evening, he was thinking of them and called them, and was told about the picture.
I asked him how it felt when getting hugged or being given a drawing made specifically for him. José described how happy it made him feel. I noted that God feels the same about us. He loves it when we want to be with Him or talk to Him. God blesses us not expecting an equivalent response, just as José enjoyed giving small gifts to his niece and nephew without expecting anything in return.
How would he feel if they reached out to him only when they wanted to be given something? What would be different if they never were looking forward to actually being with him? It’s the same kind of active relationship that shows loving faith in God: wanting to pray—both to speak and listen, and appreciating being in His presence. When recognizing the ways He has blessed us, we can express our gratitude and find joy in worshiping Him. That is authentic faith at work, words and actions stemming from love, not obligation.
I pray that God would use these conversations, these songs, these meals, to stir the hearts of those we meet.
Thank You, Lord, that You never expect us to serve You, seek You, or spend time with You about of obligation. You delight in our relationship, our yearning for YOU, not just the things You might give us. Help us to surrender back to You all that we hold on to most dearly, while at the same time receiving from You far more valuable gifts and promises.
- Do you relate more to Abraham’s life-long profession of beliefs or Rahab’s dramatic conversion in crisis?
- Have there been times when your faith was tested? How did you respond? How might you respond in a situation where you were asked to surrender what is most important to you?
- Spend some time drawing a picture or writing a letter to Jesus, just as you might for someone you love.
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