These two words look and sound so much alike that it would seem they mean much the same thing. But that would not be quite accurate. St. James must have run into people in his day who thought much the same thing, though they didn’t speak the English language in which the similarity of the sound would have possibly conveyed much the same impression. For he had occasion to remark: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2.15-17)
St. James was addressing a version of the farewell/welfare dyad. There is an odd linkage between the two terms, not only in their sound, but also in their relationship, not so much in terms of similarity but more so in terms of their contrast. We might initially look at them this way: if I am faring well, then my welfare is assured. Here there is a similarity: if I’m faring well, for example, financially, then my welfare is more or less assured, that is, my well-being at multiple levels (employment, housing, food, clothing, health care, education).
On the other hand, if my welfare is in jeopardy, I’m not faring well. If I’m “on welfare”, as St. James observes, I will be the recipient of many a “good luck and farewell” implying my “friendships” and my well-being are in danger. Should I have to rely on welfare, it is realistic to say farewell to those who were my friends, and to the “good ole days”. So welfare suggests malware, i.e., things are not functioning well for me. We may desire to fare well, but we certainly do not want to be on welfare.
So welfare seems to suggest we bid farewell to the good life and the well-being and the associations we formerly enjoyed. There is a stigma attached to welfare, unlike the esteem that seems to be associated with the greeting “farewell”. Faring well and being on welfare are no longer similar; they are opposites. Is my being on welfare endangering your welfare? Is your “fare well” a genuine expression of best wishes in my regard, or is it a definitive breaking of whatever bonded us in the past? St. James implies that “farewell” often implies breakage rather than bonding.
Another way of looking at this, of course, is when your welfare is a source of my faring well. It proves to be a bonding, not a breakage. This is when a person realizes he/she is not an island living separate or apart from others, but is an isthmus linking two separate, disparate entities. In this scenario, your faring well works to my advantage, that is, to my welfare. But it’s a two-way street because my welfare is part of the reason why you are faring well. Here, of course, we move beyond monetary units and begin to deal in another kind of currency, a spiritual type that the works of mercy itemize. You begin to accumulate “points” with God, certainly to your welfare, when you engage in genuine concern over my welfare. So we mutually benefit one another. My financial impoverishment becomes an occasion for your spiritual enrichment. So now your “farewell” to me will mean a genuine expression of beneficence, not a brush off. It is your investment in my well-being that pays dividends for you. We both profit. This kind of farewell redounds to the welfare of both parties.