Our Good Works do not Have a Name

Advent 1 Thursday

Matthew 21:5

“Say to the Daughter Zion: “Look, your King comes to you, gentle, and rides on a donkey and on a foal of a beast of burden.”

Now we come to the other part, good works: We receive Christ not only as a gift by faith; we also receive him as an example by love toward our neighbor whom we are to serve and do good, as Christ does us. Faith brings and gives you Christ as your own with all his possessions. Love gives you to your neighbor with all your possessions. A Christian life consists in these two, purely and completely. This life is followed by suffering and persecution for the sake of such faith and love. Out of suffering and persecution grows hope in patience. Now you perhaps wonder which the good works are you are to do for your neighbor. The answer is that they have no name. Rather, just like the good works Christ does for you also do not have a name, so the good works you are to do for your neighbor shall and may also not have a name. Yet how are they to be recognized? Answer: They do not have a name so that there might not arise a distinction and they be divided into parts, so that you do some but not others. Rather, you are to surrender completely with all you are able to do, just as Christ did not just pray or fast for you. Praying and fasting is not the work he did for you. Rather, he gave himself to you wholly, with praying, fasting, all works and suffering, so that there is nothing on and in him that is not your and not done for you. Accordingly, it is not your good work to give alms or pray. Rather, when you surrender completely to your neighbor and serve him where he needs you and you are able to do it, be if by alms, prayer, working, fasting, advising, comforting, teaching, exhorting, rebuking, excusing, clothing, feeding, and finally also by suffering and dying for him. Tell me, where are there now such works in Christendom? Would to God that I had a voice like a thunderclap so that I could sound forth into the whole world and tear out the expression good works out of the hearts, mouths, ears, and books of all people, or at least grant them the proper understanding of the term. The whole world sings, speaks, writes, and thinks about good works…but no good works are done anywhere; in fact, no one knows
anything about the topic…If you have ears to hear and a heart to think, hear and learn for God’s sake what acts are, and are called, good works. A good work is called good because it is useful, does good and helps the one for whom it is done–
why else would it be called good? For there is a difference between good works and works that are great, long, many, and beautiful. Being able to throw a big rock far is a great work, but who is benefitted by this work?…To get to our point, who is helped when you smear silver and gold on the walls, stone, and wood in the churches?…Who is helped when you fast for St. Catharine, St. Martin, and other saints?…Who is helped if all people held mass at all times?…All this is utter fool’s business and seduction; human lies came up with this, calling it good works…A tree bears fruit not for itself, but to benefit man and beast; the fruits are the tree’s good works.

St. Louis ed., 11:17-19.

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