Gracious and eternal God,
to whom we turn in every need;
receive the gifts we offer.
Let our lives bear fruit,
and our compassion never wither;
in Jesus' name.
©Jeff Shrowder, 2000, 2012 on The Billabong, a worship resource following the Revised Common Lectionary
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
13Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
1What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don't they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? 2You long for something you don't have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can't get, so you struggle and fight. You don't have because you don't ask. 3You ask and don't have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.
7Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and the devil will run away from you. 8Come near to God, and God will come near to you. …
Common English Bible (CEB) | Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible
James: Author and Content
The Revised Common Lectionary has been in a semi-continuous weekly reading of the New Testament epistle or letter of James. With a somewhat similar style as Proverbs in the OT, James broadly falls within the tradition of wisdom literature. This is the first time I've blogged about James during this lectionary year B, and this probably isn't the best passage to start with, but here it is.
To my knowledge, even most recent scholarship hasn't assigned an approximate date to this letter. Jesus' apostle James Zebedee almost definitely didn't write it; it may have been by Jesus' biological brother James, or someone else could have honored either of those James by using the name. In any case, James/Jacob/Jake wrote to scattered, dispersed Jewish Christians in a diaspora either fairly nearby or relatively far away. Take your pick.
James is all about how to live together in community in ways everyone will be their healthiest and best. James' passion for doing the word carries echoes of Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Luke; James also sounds like Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke, his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.
Luther and James / James and Luther
You may have heard that reformer Martin Luther famously did not like Jimmy, notoriously referring to his letter as an "epistle of straw." The most common explanation for Luther's opinion is how James' insistence we need to do the word of God can feel like works-righteousness that violates Luther's theology of grace. It could have been because Pastor Martin wasn't crazy about the idea of serving some of his crudely rustic neighbors. It may have been because James doesn't affirm or confess Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God, so this epistle doesn't contain a hint of high Christology. Yet five centuries after Luther, Pastor James Boyce reflects, "Just as the Word is present and assumed in the 'word of truth' and the 'implanted word' of James 1:18 and 21, so the Spirit of God would be assumed…"
Another note: in addition to James, Luther did not want to include Revelation, Hebrews, or Jude in the canon of scripture. He also had lesser opinions of 2 John, 3 John, and 2 Peter. Luther's leftovers sometimes are called antilegomena, literally "spoken against."
James and COVID-19
Wisdom in scripture isn't book learning, higher education, or high-IQ intelligence. Those things aren't bad at all; we need people who've studied hard and learned to think critically. Wisdom in scripture isn't static or one-dimensional. Biblical wisdom discerns loving possibilities with an open heart and open mind, allows (a lot of space for) mercy and grace, and trusts resurrection happens out of death.
I could say this reading addresses the ongoing debate over masks and vaccinations, and it does, but so does most of scripture. You likely remember "WWJD"? James demands, "Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom … Therefore, submit to God." People who submit to God don't ask about their own rights because God created each of us in the divine image and made us interdependent with equal "rights." According to late great Jewish theologian Martin Buber, "love is responsibility of an I for a thou."
Seven months ago on February 15 on my other main blog I observed:
Early in the COVID-19 mask-wearing mandate people started to protest. Almost a year into masks, people haven't stopped complaining, with some refusing to mask up because they insist masks take away their personal freedom. As the commandments (the law!) and the prophets (grace!) reveal, life's not about a supposedly autonomous "me" individual because no one lives by or for themselves. Polite suggestions or municipal demands to mask don't remove anyone's freedom; freedom always has limits and boundaries because no one can be that autonomous "law unto themselves." Life is about me, a person connected to the other – to my neighbor whose neighbor I become – in love that regards their greater good as my privilege and obligation, that perceives the neighbor's good as my own.
But why didn't Martin Luther love and admire James?!