Faith is a Verb


During this season of Lent, we practice self-denial, intensify our commitment to prayer and seek spiritual opportunities such as missions or retreats. We confess our sins and engage in works of charity. Many of us take time for spiritual reading and study of the Word of God. All of these elements are oriented towards the renewal and deepening of faith as individual disciples and as the Church.
What is this faith that we seek to deepen? Is it a matter of feelings? Does it involve agreement with doctrine? Is faith a matter of doing good and avoiding evil? Is faith all of these things? More?
In his letters, St. Paul praises the faith of Christ and summons disciples to faith in Christ. He speaks of the faith of Christ insofar as Jesus lives and expresses perfect fidelity. It is His fidelity, the “faith of Christ” that redeems and saves us. This is the mystery that we touch at the altar – the mystery of Christ’s self-offering in perfect love and trust to Our Heavenly Father for the salvation of the world. Our “faith in Christ,” is our own trusting response to the grace of the Lord.
When it comes to the matter of faith, the Gospel of John has a very particular perspective. In the Greek language, there is a noun usually translated as “faith” and a related verb that usually appears in English as “to believe.” The Gospel of John only uses the noun “faith” once. It uses the verb form 98 times. Just by this grammatical indication, John’s Gospel teaches that faith in Jesus is an active rather than passive reality.
If you pay attention to the folks around Jesus in this gospel, you will see that there are a variety of responses to the Lord Jesus ranging from the immediate belief of Mary and John the Baptist, to the tentative but growing faith of the disciples, to the suspicious but deepening belief of the Samaritan woman to the outright rejection of Jesus by his opponents in the leadership of the Temple. Through the lens of these people, the Gospel offers us a “spectrum” of faith responses. In some cases, individuals may move through that spectrum from tentative or suspicious to full and active belief.
Authentic belief in John is first and foremost about relationship to the Lord Jesus. He is the object of the belief. To know him is to know the Father. Focused on Jesus, believing becomes a new way of seeing – first seeing him properly and then understanding reality through him. Consider, for example, the lengthy account of the man born blind in chapter 9. True believing involves trusting in Jesus and His word. Finally, to believe is to testify to the Lord. In the ideal cases of Mary and John the Baptist, both do that from the outset. Mary commands the guests at the wedding “do whatever He tells you.” John witnesses to his disciples “behold the Lamb of God.”
You may wish to consider picking up this Gospel and reading a passage such as that of the Samaritan woman or the man born blind. You might be moved by the transformation of Peter from three denials to the three assertions of love for the Lord or the awakening of Mary Magdalene at the tomb. These characters mirror our own confusion, struggle and longing for the Lord. They teach us to believe and to witness.
Faith is more than doctrine or good deeds. It is a relationship with the One Who loves us to the end. It is a summons to trust and love. Like every healthy relationship, faith is an active reality – one that requires the whole of our response. As the Gospel of John makes so clear: faith is a verb!