February 20, 2010

The Letter of James

The letter of James is sometimes categorized as a moral discourse or an ethical handbook because of its concrete and practical nature and its emphasis on social justice issues. It has become a favorite of contemporary Christians in the growing churches of Asia and Africa. However, it is addressed to all Christians, and it begins by affirming the positive value of trials and hardships. These difficult experiences serve to build Christian character. They test the quality of one’s faith, strengthen that faith for perseverance, and ultimately result in a maturity and completeness that is the goal of Christian living.

For James the key to all this is wisdom which is a gift from God and is to be sought in prayer. Wisdom on the human level is the culmination of experience having been reflected upon through faith. Wisdom is the great gift that enables us to confront our many doubts and faithfully persevere and grow. James echoes the teaching of Jesus in the gospels of asserting the impending reversal of the poor and the rich, a teaching very encouraging to those who have lived most of their lives in poverty.

In a way the antithesis of everything James addresses in the beginning of this letter is exemplified by the sign-seeking Pharisees in today’s gospel. They manifest neither faith nor wisdom. They have heard Jesus teach, and they have witnessed his concrete behavior with the sick, the outcast, and the poor. Still they remain riddled with doubt. They want the kind of proof that only faith can provide, but they are not wise enough to understand this. We hope we can learn from their shortcomings.

A reading from the beginning of the Letter of Saint James (James 1:1-11)

James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials,

for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.

But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.

For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.

The brother in lowly circumstances should take pride in his high standing,

and the rich one in his lowliness, for he will pass away "like the flower of the field."

For the sun comes up with its scorching heat and dries up the grass, its flower droops, and the beauty of its appearance vanishes.

So will the rich person fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

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