Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: John 3:14-21
Several years ago, I moved into a new apartment. It was the first apartment I had all to myself, since I was newly out of college and had a good job, and I wanted it to look nice. It had big, white walls that I thought could use something to break up the monotony. One of my sisters has a talent for art, specifically drawing and painting. I knew that my sister was unemployed at the time, and since Christmas was coming, she wouldn’t have a way to get gifts for others. So, I decided to give my sister money well before Christmas, so she could get presents for everybody else. The only thing I asked in return was that she make me a painting to hang in my apartment. Essentially, I commissioned a piece of art for my home. The end result was that my sister was able to bless others (including me, once the painting was finished), even though unemployed, because of the gift I’d given her.
The Father has worked the same way with us, through his Son, Jesus Christ. He has given each of us a gift that we could not earn – faith in Jesus Christ – so that we may be a blessing to others. It is in this sense that our faith saves us, though it does not originate from us, but is rather a gift from God. However, with this faith comes the understanding that we will do the works that God has intended for us to do. In this way, we have not earned salvation through our works, because salvation was already given to us before we had done anything – the only thing we did was accept the gift of faith, and with it came salvation. Once faith is received and salvation accepted, the works we do are those "good works that God has prepared in advance." (Eph 2:10b) We are then commissioned by God, as His apostles were, to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20a)
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not equating my one good deed one Christmas years ago with Jesus’ salvation of the world. What I am saying, though is that God had blessed me with a good job (one of the many fruits of faith in Him), so it was only fitting that I share those blessings with my family – directly to my sister, and indirectly through the gifts she gave the rest of them. That direct blessing to my sister was not requested by her, but it provided a sort of "salvation" from embarassment of not being able to get gifts for everyone (or even anyone) that year. My commissioning her to do a painting was a good work that she did that I had requested in advance, but could only be done if I blessed her first. Finally, that painting, to this day, hangs on my wall as a sign of a brother’s love for his sister, and that love being reciprocated back.