THE LETTER OF JAMES
LESSON 3: SUMMONING THE TWELVE TRIBES
You called Your servant James to be the first of Your shepherds of the Church in Jerusalem and he answered Your call by his faithful service and by offering his life for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Give each of us, Lord, the courage and the fortitude of Your servant James, that we too may serve You in obedient faith and daily lay down our lives in sacrifice for the sake of Your Kingdom. Send to us Lord, Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of the life of James the Just, Bishop of Jerusalem. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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"Though the office of the priesthood is exercised on earth, it ranks, nevertheless, in the celestial order of things, and rightly so. It was neither man nor an angel nor an archangel nor any other created power, but the Paraclete himself who established this ministry, and who ordained that men abiding in the flesh should imitate the ministry of angels." St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood 3.4
James the Just, kinsman of Jesus, stepped onto the stage of Salvation History at a crucial time in the growth of the New Covenant people of God. It was essential that the leader of the mother church in Jerusalem be a man who would command the respect of Old Covenant Jews with his piety and knowledge of the Law of Moses. If James was indeed a lifetime Nazirite who wore the robes of a Levitical priest and serve God in the Temple as he is described by the Jewish-Christian historian Hegesippus, he would have had the required credentials to elicit the kind of respect that would be necessary. It is obvious from the titles given him by Jews and Christians alike, James the Just or the Righteous, (Zaddik), and, "Protection" /"Bulwark"/ "Fortress" of the people (Oblias), that James, Bishop of Jerusalem was both revered and loved. What better man to help swell the ranks of Jewish New Covenant believers so that the prophesized "faithful remnant" of Israel could fulfill the destiny Yahweh had given the holy covenant people of the 12 tribes of Israel, to bring the lost Gentile nations of the Tower of Babel back into Yahweh's covenant family, reborn as sons and daughters through water and the Spirit.
SUMMARY OF THE LETTER OF SAINT JAMES
The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth: the Universal Church
New Covenant in Christ Jesus
Focus of message
Living God's law of righteousness in the light of Jesus Christ
Division of Text
The eschatological discourse
-Value of trials
-The rich vs. the poor
-Doers of the Word
-Respect for the poor
-Definition of true faith;
justification through living, active faith
-Real wisdom vs. worldly wisdom
-Disunity among Christians
-Warning to the rich and proud
-Parousia of the Lord
-Prayer, confession, Sacrament of the sick
(Sacrament of Anointing)
Location and author
Jerusalem; James Bishop of Jerusalem, kinsman of Jesus
Sometime between 34 – 62/64 AD
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
"I want you to be quite certain, brothers, of this mystery, to save you from congratulating yourselves on your own good sense: part of Israel had its mind hardened, but only until the Gentiles have wholly come in; and this is how all Israel will be saved." Romans 11:25-26a
ADDRESS AND GREETING
James 1:1: "From James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion."
James' Hebrew name and his greeting would have a significant symbolic impact on the Jews listening to him.
Question: James Bishop of Jerusalem shared the same name as what Old Testament Patriarch? What was that man's destiny?
Answer: His Hebrew name is Ya'akov (Ya'akob), which in our English Bibles is translated as "Jacob." Jacob in the Old Testament was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. The covenant God formed with Abraham continued through his son Isaac and was reestablished in his grandson Jacob who God renamed "Israel", "struggles with God." Jacob/Israel was the father of 12 sons who would become the 12 physical fathers of the 12 tribes that would form the nation of Israel, the name which would be born by the nation created to be God's holy covenant people and the Old Covenant Church.
Biblical scholars have long noted the parallels between Old Testament and New Testament servants of God. For example there are similarities between the lives of King Saul in the Book of 1 Samuel and the apostle Saul of Tarsus. Both men shared the same name, both were members of the tribe of Benjamin, both men experienced conversion experiences traveling down a road, and both had persecuted God's anointed. King Saul persecuted God's anointed David and Saul of Tarsus persecuted David's heir the Messiah [anointed one] Jesus of Nazareth by persecuting His Church: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me" Acts 9:4.
Comparisons have also been made between Joseph of the Old Testament and Joseph the foster father of Jesus. Both men shared the same name, both men received prophetic dreams, both men went into Egypt, both men practiced chastity and moral purity, and both men fulfilled a role in salvation history in the establishment of the people of God that was realized after their deaths.
Question: In addition to a shared name what other parallels can you see between the life of the Patriarch Ya'akov/Jacob and the life of the Bishop James?
Typology of Ya'akov/Jacob son of Isaac and Ya'akov/James kinsman of Jesus
OLD TESTAMENT JACOB
NEW TESTAMENT JACOB
His name, according to Genesis 25:26 means "he will trip by the heel." His name was prophetically fulfilled when he supplanted his elder brother in receiving the birthright promises and covenant blessings.
Bearing the same name, James/ Ya'akov supplanted his "brother" [in terms of kinship] when as the New Covenant Bishop of Jerusalem his authority made null and void the authority of the Old Covenant Jerusalem High Priest over the people of God. His "brothers" in the Old Covenant received temporal blessings but James' New Covenant blessings were eternal.
This man God renamed "Israel" received a vision of God that transformed his life
This "son" of Israel received a vision of the risen Christ that transformed his life
He became the "father" of the 12 tribes known as the Israelites who formed the Old Covenant Church that would be established in Jerusalem.
He became the "father" of the Israelites who were the "faithful remnant" of the 12 tribes who formed the New Covenant Church in Jerusalem.
He steadfastly stood against opposition from his brother Esau, put his faith in the promises of God, and established his family in the holy land God had promised him and his descendants.
He steadfastly stood against opposition from his Jewish "brothers"/kinsmen, put his faith in God and faithfully shepherded the New Covenant people of the family of God that had been entrusted to him so that they might one day come to the true Promise Land of heaven.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
If this letter is a homily St. James delivered in Jerusalem one wonders what occasion might have led James to open his address with such a greeting: "From James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the twelve tribes of the Dispersion." According to the Law of Moses 3 of the 7 annual holy days of obligation: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles were deemed to be "pilgrim feasts" in which every man of the Old Sinai Covenant 13 years or older must present himself before Yahweh at the Tabernacle/Temple in Jerusalem [see Exodus 23:14-17; 34:18-24; Deuteronomy 16:1-16; Chart: The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant]. When celebrating these pilgrim feasts Jews from all over the Greco-Roman world, which the Jews called the Diaspora, came to the holy city of Jerusalem. Normally 1st century Jerusalem boasted about 100,000 citizens but during these feasts the numbers would swell to over 2 million [see Josephus, The Jewish Wars, 6.9.3(424-425)].
Question: Read about the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in the Upper Room during the Jewish pilgrim feast of Pentecost [Shavuot or Feast of Weeks] in Acts 2:5-13. How many different regions of the Diaspora are mentioned? Consult a map of the 1st century Roman Empire and identify the different regions.
Answer: Acts chapter 2 names 15 different regions: there were Parthians [beyond the Euphrates which marked the border of the Roman Empire], Medes and Elamites [region of Persia/Iran and the Persian Gulf], Mesopotamians [the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers], Judeans [region of the holy land that was the old kingdom of Judea]. There were travelers from Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of the Libyan coast near Cyrene. There were also pilgrims who were residents of Rome, both Jews and Gentile proselytes, as well as pilgrims from the island of Crete and Jews from Arabia. James may have used a pilgrim feast as an opportunity to address Jews from the Gentile world who would return home to spread the Gospel of salvation.
Question: Compare the greeting in St. James' letter to the covenant people of the Diaspora to St. Peter's greeting to the universal Church in 1 Peter 1: 1-2.
Answer: Peter identifies himself as "Apostle of Jesus Christ", and he directs his letter to "all those living as aliens" in the Dispersion of Asia Minor [modern Turkey]. By "aliens" Peter does not mean only Jews or Israelites but all Christians whose true home is not this world but whose home is instead the Promised Land of heaven [Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 11:8-16; 13:14] and who must endure a temporary exile on earth before being "called home". The Greek word for "exile" is paroikia, the word from which our word "parish" comes [1 Peter 1:17; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8].
Answer: St. Paul writing of the new creation in Christ in Galatians 6:16 proclaims: "Peace and mercy to all who follow this as their rule and to the Israel of God." The Christian community is the true Israel, the heir of the promises made to the prophets. The Old Covenant 12 Tribes of Israel prefigure the universal kingdom of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant believers who inherit the kingdom through the sacrament of Baptism. 12 physical Israelite fathers, the sons of Jacob/Israel brought about the old Israel and now 12 spiritual Israelite fathers, the 12 Apostles have spiritually fathered the New Israel, the universal/catholic Church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John witnesses the redemption of the 12 Tribes as the New Israel, the Universal Church sealed by the blood of the Lamb in Revelation 7:4-10: "And I heard how many had been sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel. [..]. After that I saw that there was a huge number, impossible for anyone to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted in a loud voice, 'Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" Revelation 7:4-10
Question: But would these men of the Diaspora [the world outside the Promised Land] be Israelites or Jews or both? What is the difference? How does St. Peter characterize these pilgrims in his homily in Acts 2:14-41? What is the significance of the term "Israel" and what would the use of the phrase "12 tribes of Israel" invoke in those hearing James' address? When did "Israel" cease to exist [hint: see 2 Kings 17:5-9, 15-18, 20-23]? What Old Testament prophet's unfulfilled prophecy might come to mind to the assembled Jews being addressed as "Israelites" by a holy man named Ya'akov? See for example the prophecies of Isaiah in chapter 41which begins the theme of "the servant" which is more fully developed in the section of the Book of Isaiah known as "The Servant's Song" in Isaiah chapters 42-55.
· Isaiah 41: 8-10: "But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham my friend, whom I have taken to myself, from the remotest parts of the earth and summoned from countries far away, to whom I have said, 'You are my servant, I have chosen you, I have not rejected you, do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be alarmed, for I am you God."
· Isaiah 43:1: "And now, thus says Yahweh, he who created you, Jacob, who formed you, Israel: Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine."
· 44:1-2: "And now listen, Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen. Thus says Yahweh who made you, who formed you in the womb; he will help you. Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I shall pour out water on the thirsty soil and streams on the dry ground." [note: "Jeshurun" or in Hebrew Yashurun, is a poetic name for Israel found in Deuteronomy 32:15; 33:5, 26 and Ecclesiasticus 37:25. The Hebrew eto ymology is uncertain but it may mean "loyal" [from yashar] or "honest" or "righteous" as opposed to Ya'akov which means "he who supplants."
· Isaiah 44:21-23: Remember these things, Jacob, and Israel, since you are my servant. I formed you, you are my servant; Israel, I shall not forget you. I have dispelled your acts of revolt like a cloud and your sins like a mist. Come back to me, for I have redeemed you. Heavens, shout for joy, for Yahweh has acted! Underworld, shout aloud! Shout for joy, mountains, forests and all your trees! For Yahweh has redeemed Jacob and displayed his glory in Israel."
· Isaiah 49:5-6: "And now Yahweh has spoken, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and to re-unite Israel to him;'I shall be honored in Yahweh's eyes, and my God has been my strength. 'He said, 'It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I shall make you a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of earth."
Answer: In his great homily on Pentecost Sunday Simon-Peter addressed his kinsmen as "men of Judea", "men of Israel", and as "brothers." But Israel as a unified nation has ceased to exist since 930BC and as a separate Northern Kingdom since 722BC. The 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been disbursed into the Gentile world by their Assyrian conquerors in 722AD. A few Israelites had drifted back to the Galilee, the first area where the Assyrian exile had begun in 732BC [see 2 Kings 15:29]. This is where Jesus began His restoration of Israel by centering his ministry in the Galilee and choosing the majority of His Apostles from among the Israelite Galileans. Nevertheless, the majority of Old Covenant faithful were Jews, members of the Southern Kingdom of Judah which was composed of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin [see 1 Kings 12:20-24] and which had continued to be ruled by Davidic kings until the exile to Babylon in 587/6BC. Isaiah prophesied the destruction and dispersion of the Northern kingdom of Israel into the Gentile nations and he also prophesied the destruction of the Southern kingdom of Judah but promised a return and a restoration after the exile which lasted 70 years. In these passages Isaiah equated the name "Jacob" or James with Israel the chosen people. The restoration after the Babylonian exile did take place but it was a very incomplete restoration with only a fraction of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin returning to rebuilt Judah, Jerusalem and the Temple and an even smaller faithful remnant returning to the Israelite territory of the Galilee. The vast majority of Jews [those of the Southern Kingdom of Judah] and Israelites [those of the Northern Kingdom of Israel] never returned to the Holy Land. But now the Christian Bishop of Jerusalem, whose very name evokes the nation of Israel, is greeting the Israelites scattered among the Gentile nations by identifying himself as God's servant and the servant of Jesus the Messiah in whom the complete restoration of the people of God has been promised by the prophets like the great 6th century BC prophet of the Babylonian exile Ezekiel:
· Ezekiel promised a full and complete spiritual restoration of the people which up to the time of the 1st century had not been fulfilled: Ezekiel 36:24: "For I shall take you from among the nations and gather you back from all the countries, and bring you home to your own country. I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your false idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practice my judgments."
· Ezekiel also promised a full and complete physical restoration of the divided covenant people: Ezekiel 37:21-22, 25c-28:"The Lord Yahweh says this: I shall take the Israelites from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in the country, on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. [...]. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and make them grow; I shall set my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I shall be their God, and they will be my people. And the nations will know that I am Yahweh the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever."
St. Ya'akov's/ James' summons to the Israelites that had been scattered into the Gentile nations would have evoked the memory of these promises. They will be restored under the kingship of Jesus the Messiah and His universal Kingdom of heaven on earth in which all of Israel, even those lost Israelites who married into the Gentile clans and tribes, are to be brought back into the family of God with those Gentiles to form one nation and one universal kingdom -the Catholic Church. This is St. Paul's theme in Romans chapters 9-11'that all of Israel will be restored by bringing in the Gentile peoples into whom the lost tribes of Israel have been scattered: "I want you to be quite certain, brothers, of this mystery, to save you from congratulating yourselves on your own good sense: part of Israel had its mind hardened, but only until the Gentiles have wholly come in; and this is how all Israel will be saved." Romans 11:25-26a
Why does St. James, as the inspired writer of this letter to the Covenant people, identify himself by the title "servant of God"? The prophets, kings, and priests of Israel were all called "servants" of God. The apostles certainly saw themselves as the successors to the prophets and as God's divine order of priests of the New Covenant. However, there may be another reason James identifies himself by this particular title. On a 1st century AD ossuary discovered in Jerusalem the Aramaic inscription identifies the bones of the woman interred within the ossuary as the wife and mother of priests who were "servants" of God in their congregation/ synagogue. Archaeologists can date this ossuary to prior to the destruction of Jerusalem because internment of the bones of the deceased in bone boxes [after the body was place in a tomb for a year and the flesh had fallen away from the bones leaving the desiccated bones] was only practiced in Jerusalem from the early 1st century AD until the destruction of the Temple in 70AD,the same period of time James served as Bishop of the Christian community. The inscription on the woman's ossuary is in Aramaic, the common language of 1st century Judea, and the word used to describe the priests as "servants" of God is "hazzan." This word which was used to describe the official title of a priest serving a congregation has been encountered in other ancient inscriptions which dated from the fourth or early fifth century AD but this particular inscription has provided evidence of the use of this official title for a priest leading a faith community dating before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70AD is significant. The hazzan of a Jewish congregation in the first century was more than an ordinary priest. The hazzan served the people not only at the time of the synagogue liturgical service as God's covenant representative but also held the responsibility as guardian of the sacred scrolls, principle teacher and executor of the covenant obligations of the congregation. In Jewish synagogues today the title hazzan used differently; it is the cantor who chants the service and leads the congregation in prayer. Some scholars have maintained that this letter could not be from James, Bishop of Jerusalem because he does not identify himself as the leader of the Jerusalem faith community but by using the title "servant" the Jews and Israelites of the Dispersion would have clearly understood that James serves as the highest ranking New Covenant priest of the Jerusalem New Covenant community and serves as hazzan of the Lord Jesus Christ the one mediator between man and God! [For more information on the use of the word hazzan see Biblical Archaeology Review, "Engraved in Memory: Diaspora Jews Find Eternal Rest in Jerusalem", May/June 2006, pages 53-57].
Please read James 1:2-11
James 1:2-4: The Privilege of Suffering as a Conduit for Prayer and Spiritual Growth
As the Hazzan of the faith community in Jerusalem, St. James offers sound and practical advice on how to live in righteousness guided by the light of the New Covenant Law of Jesus the Messiah. His major themes will be the righteousness of true religion, true faith, and true wisdom, and he will close his discourse with a warning concerning the Second Advent of the Messiah at the end of time as we know it.
James 1:2-4: "My brothers, consider it a great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you for you well know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in may way."
What a way for James to begin his address! We love to receive the blessings of faith but all of us shrink and cringe at the prospect of suffering! The Greek word peirasmos in this passage can be translated either as "trial" or as "temptation." The majority of the Fathers of the Church preferred to interpret this passage in the light of what James writes in 1:12-14 as referring to the trials a Christian must face as he makes his faith journey through this life. James will continue with this theme in verses 12-14 where he will assure Christians "Never, when you are being put to the test, say, 'God is temping me', God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test." God allows trials to test us and to teach us lessons in faith and perseverance but He does not tempt us with evil. We allow ourselves to fall into temptation and to act upon it. The inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom warns: "Do not court death by the errors of your ways, nor invite destruction through the work of your hands." Wisdom 1:12.
Question: Who is it that James addresses as his brothers in this passage?
Answer: He is probably addressing his kinsmen and kinswomen who are Christian descendants of Jacob/Israel. The Greek word for "brother" in the plural can mean both "brothers" and "sisters". In this statement James offers words of consolation to 1st century Jewish Christians who were suffering at the hands of their Jewish countrymen who rejected the New Covenant of Jesus of Nazareth. In many cases families were being torn asunder and New Covenant Jews were being barred from worshipping with their kinsmen in the local synagogues. This is not what New Covenant Jews and Israelites expected in the promised Kingdom of the Davidic Messiah. They expected restoration and covenantal peace, instead they experienced painful emotional disharmony and personal suffering. Was this the bitter fruit of restoration to be expected?
Question: What did the prophet Simeon reveal to the Virgin Mary concerning Jesus' destiny when she brought her son to be dedicated at the Temple in Luke 2:34? What did Jesus say about the kind of suffering that a New Covenant believer would have to endure for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven on earth? See Matthew 10:17-25; 34-36.
Answer: Simeon prophesized in Luke 2:34: "Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed..."; and Jesus in Matthew chapter 10 Jesus warned that families would be divided between those who came to accept Him as the Messiah and those who rejected Him. Jesus' mission was to prepare the New Israel, the Church, to fulfill the destiny of the Old Israel which was to being salvation to the Gentile nations. Fulfilling this mission was to bring hostility and persecution from His own people upon Him and His followers.
Question: What promise did God make to those who lived lives of holiness in the Old Covenant? What promise does Jesus make in His Sermon on the Mount to those who suffer trials but persevere in holiness that is similar to James' call for rejoicing in times of trials and suffering? See the Old Testament book of Wisdom, chapter 3 and verses 1, 5, and 6 and Matthew 5:11-12.
· Old Testament: "But the souls of the upright are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them. [...]. God was putting them to the test and has proved them worthy to be with him; he has tested them like gold in a furnace, and accepted them as a perfect burnt offering." Wisdom 3:1, 5-6
· Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you." The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:11-12
Throughout his letter James will place Old Covenant teaching within the context of the New Covenant Law of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament passage the inspired writer teaches that when the righteous suffer for the sake of faith they offer their sufferings as a sacrifice acceptable to God. In the New Covenant we also yield our lives to God, living in imitation of Christ and offering ourselves as living sacrifices when we suffer persecution for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Question: Did Jesus come to establish peace and harmony? If so why have Christians suffered? What additional assurance did Jesus give to Christians who face suffering for His sake? Please read Matthew 10:28-33, 40-42.
Answer: Jesus' mission was to offer the gift of eternal salvation and to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth through His perfect sacrifice and His resurrection to new life, which he transmits to the believer through the supernatural power of baptismal grace by water and the Spirit. Since the choice is clear that one must either accept or reject Christ, His first Advent led to division. But He did promise a gift that far transcends any suffering we may have to endure temporally because His gift of grace is eternal salvation. But to claim that gift we must acknowledge belief in Him before men and He will acknowledge us before the great judgment seat of God in heaven.
Question: How did James' words which promise victory in the midst of suffering give hope to the Jewish-Christians who received his message? What was happening to St. Paul and other Jewish Christians when they tried to share the Gospel of salvation with Jews in the Diaspora? See Acts 13:50-51; 14:4-5; 17:5-9; 18:12-17.
Answer: Some Jews openly accepted the message of the risen Messiah but others were violently opposed to the New Covenant teachings. In many towns and villages New Covenant Jewish believers were being beaten, excommunicated from the local Synagogues and rejected by their families. In many cases local Synagogues were formed around certain trades or guilds so this separation was not only emotionally wrenching but was economically disastrous for Jewish Christian families.
James will elaborate on this theme of perseverance in times of trial in James 1:12-15, but here he introduces the concept that although we have been reborn into the family of God we are not yet fully developed in our spiritual life. This is an important teaching. Sometimes crisis for the Christian is not so much from a lack of faith as from a misunderstanding of expectations. St. John the Baptist, suffered in his dungeon of doubt formed not by the walls of Herod Antipas' prison but by his misunderstanding of the scope of God's plan. John sent emissaries to Jesus asking in essence, "Did I get it wrong; are you really who I though you were?" John was experiencing a crisis of expectation not a crisis of belief in God [see Matthew 11:1-5]. And perhaps Simon-Peter's crisis the night Jesus was arrested was more a crisis of expectation than a crisis of faith [John 18:10-11; 25-27] ' after all why would God allow lowly humans to so abuse and revile Him? James wants his kinsmen in the New Covenant to understand that this is part of the process of our journey to salvation that we need to be trained by our Father through trial and suffering to grow in faith and righteousness.
Question: It seems a paradox that trial and suffering could be good for us. James even goes so far as to say that Christians should rejoice in their trials. Why? Hint: see what St. Peter and St. Paul taught about trials in 1 Peter 1:6-7; Romans 5:3-5; Colossians 1:24.
· St. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:6-7 that trials strengthen and refine our faith: "This is a great joy to you, even though for a short time yet you must bear all sorts of trials; so that the worth of your faith, more valuable than gold, which is perishable even if it has been tested by fire, may be proved, to your praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
· St. Paul teaches in Romans 5:3-5: "Not only that; let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." Paul's point is that trials are meant to help Christians "toughen up" and develop the virtue of perseverance which will develop character and a good character rooted in divine grace preserves us from sin, strengthens our faith, and faith gives us hope.
· In Colossians 1:24 Paul writes: "It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that sill have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church of which I was made a servant with the responsibility towards you that God gave to me...". Paul is admonishing us that Jesus suffered in order to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and anyone who is willing to continue this work must share this suffering. Paul is therefore happy to associate himself with the trials of Jesus through his suffering in his apostolate, living in imitation of Christ.
The sacrifice of the suffering of God's servants is the way in which God has always intended the Church to grow and develop. This is part of what has been prophesized in the Messianic era:
v Matthew 24:4-8: "And Jesus answered them, 'Take care that no one deceives you, because many will come using my name and saying, 'I Am the Christ,' and they will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; se that you are not alarmed for this is something that must happen, but the end will not be yet. For nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All this is only the beginning of the birth pangs."
v Acts 14:21-22: "Having preached the good news (gospel) in that town and made a considerable number of disciples, they went back through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith, saying, 'We must all experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God.'"
v 1 Timothy 4:1-2: "The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times some will desert the faith and pay attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils, seduced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron..."
Our suffering united to Christ gives us the compassion and humility we need to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth despite hardships and sufferings and to prepare us for the time of His promised Second Advent, which like the pangs of childbirth, will also be times of trial and tribulation but which will yield "new life".
In 1 Corinthians 3:9 St. Paul writes, "After all, we do share in God's work; you are God's farm (laborers), God's building," and in Romans 8:17 Paul writes, "And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, provided that we share his suffering, so as to share his glory." Let those words sink in, we share in His glory IF we allow ourselves to share in His suffering! To share in the work of the Father and to inherit the glory He has promised us God has provided a unique way for us to experience the work of Christ when in our suffering we offer up and unite our earthly sufferings to the suffering of Jesus Christ. Jesus created for us a space in His own suffering for us to join Him and in that sacrifice of our suffering to be purified and refined in our spiritual condition. Suffering and trials offered up to Christ yields compassion and humility, enabling us to be prepared to let the works of God flow through us. It is in this way that we become useful tools in the hands of the Master so that, as St. James assures us, "perseverance must complete our work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way."
Question: What does James mean when he refers to the necessity of "our work" being completed in James 1:4?
Answer: It has always been a consistent teaching in sacred Scripture that faith must be perfected in deeds'in the Old Covenant and in the New. This teaching is James' central theme, and he will more fully develop it in chapter 2. St. Paul was also consistent in this teaching. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul wrote to the faith community in Thessalonica: "We remember before our God and Father how active is the faith, how unsparing the love, how persevering the hope which you have from our Lord Jesus Christ."
Answer: To take up our cross and to follow Him. St. Rose of Lima understood what Jesus asks of us in uniting our love and suffering with His, and what Paul was teaching in Romans 8:17 when she wrote "the cross is the only ladder to heaven!"
Question: When we ask to be relieved of the burden of suffering does Jesus always comply with our petition? Why not? Read St. Paul's account of personal suffering and his petition to be released from his burden in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Answer: Three times St. Paul pleaded to be healed but God denied his request as He will sometime deny our petitions.
Answer: We have our Lord's promise:
· 1 Corinthians 10:13: None of the trials which have come upon you is more than a human being can stand. You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it."
· 2 Corinthian 12:9-10: "...but he has answered me, 'My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness.' It is then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ's sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] # 2015 teaches: "The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes..." Accepting trial and suffering becomes for the Christian, who offers his or her suffering up as a sacrifice to God, a participation in Jesus' work of salvation [see CCC # 307; 618; 1508, 1521; Romans 14:8; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:13; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 2:21].
James 1:5-8: Praying for wisdom with confidence
"For Yahweh himself is giver of wisdom, from his mouth issue knowledge and understanding." Proverbs 2:6
"Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously and without scolding; it will be given. But the prayer must be made with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea by the buffeting of the wind. That sort of person, in two minds, inconsistent in every activity, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord."
James speaks of wisdom. Webster's dictionary (1969) defines "wisdom" as "The quality of being wise; the power or faculty of forming the fittest and best judgment in any mater presented for consideration; sound judgment and sagacity; prudence; discretion; right judgment concerning religious and moral truth; godliness."
Question: How does the Bible define true wisdom and where can one go or what must one do to receive wisdom? Hint: see Job 28:20-28; Proverbs 2:6; 15:33-16:2; Isaiah 11:1-2 and CCC 1831; Wisdom 1:4-5; 8:20-21a; 1 Corinthians 1:24-31.
Answer: Christian wisdom is not found in human understanding; it is found in Christ, a member of the human race through His mother, but in being fully God as well as fully man it is His divinity which imparts wisdom to mankind. His wisdom imparted to man is of eternal salvation, saving justice, sanctification and redemption. Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit and to live in wisdom is to live in union with the will of God.
Question: What does St. Paul teach about the value of true wisdom as opposed to false wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:17-31?
Answer: Quoting from Psalm 33:10 and Isaiah 29:14, Paul condemns arrogant wisdom which is praised by man and extols the wisdom of God which is a gift of God and brings knowledge of God. It is through the works of God that He makes His wisdom known especially through the work of the cross of Jesus Christ which goes against the expectations of both Jews and Gentiles. But to those of faith who have genuine knowledge of God the cross the climax and overflow of expectations because the cross is the apex of the power and wisdom of God. Christian wisdom is not the fruit of human knowledge. True knowledge is found in a member of the human race through the Woman promised in Genesis 3:15, the Virgin Mary, and because of her "yes" and submission to the wisdom of God Jesus Christ, God Incarnate came upon the state of human history. It is in Him that we find all the true treasures of wisdom and knowledge [see Colossians 2:3] and the wisdom that flows from the blood of the Eucharist, foolishness to some but true wisdom to others is a wisdom that saturates all humanity with the gift of justification, sanctification, redemption and eternal life.
Question: Was this revelation of true wisdom found in the knowledge of God available to the people of the Old Covenant as well as for those who lived in and after the age of the Messiah? If you reject the wisdom of God what is the result?
· Wisdom 13:1-9: "Yes naturally stupid are all who are unaware of God, and who, from good things seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is, or, by studying the works, have not recognized the Artificer. Fire, however, or wind, or the swift air, the sphere of the stars, impetuous water, heaven's lamps, are what they have held to be the gods who govern the world. If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken these for gods, let them know how much the Master of these excels, them, since it was the very source of beauty that created them. And if they have been impressed by their power and energy, le them deduce from these who much mightier is he that has formed them, since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author. Small blame, however, attaches to them, for perhaps they go astray only in their search for God and their eagerness to find him; familiar with his works, they investigate them and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty. But even so, they have no excuse: if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master?"
· Romans 1:18-23: "The retribution of God from heaven is being revealed against the ungodliness and injustice of human beings who in their injustice hold back the truth. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them, since God has made it plain to them: ever since the creation of the world, the invisible existence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind's understanding of created things. And so these people have no excuse: they knew God and yet they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but their arguments became futile and their uncomprehending minds were darkened. While they claimed to be wise, in fact they were growing so stupid that they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an imitation, for the image of a mortal human being, or of birds, or animals, or crawling things."
Answer: The beauty of creation is there to draw man to seek the truth of God, and the beauty and spectacle of nature is intended to raise the human spirit seek knowledge of God. However, if one doesn't seek genuine wisdom through the knowledge of God one will end up creating one's own god and one's own perverted wisdom, whether it is an idol or money or some other earthly, temporal passion. The human longing for God is there deeply imbedded in the soul and must be satisfied in the wisdom of knowing the true God or in unfulfilled and unsatisfied searching. For those of the modern age secularism, self-absorption, self-fulfillment and the worship of science seem to have become the false gods of this era.
Question: Is wisdom a gift given only once that never needs to be replenished? In 1 Kings 3:5 young King Solomon was told he could make a petition of God and it would be granted to him. He asked for and received divine wisdom [see the spirit of Solomon's prayer for wisdom in Wisdom 9:1-18]. Was Solomon forever wise?
Answer: No. He began his reign depending on the wisdom of God but later he came to depend on his own "wisdom" which proved to be folly. He broke every limitation Yahweh had placed on the monarchy and his ambition proved to be ruinous for the Kingdom of Israel, which broke apart into 2 kingdoms after his death. See Deuteronomy 17:14-20 for the "Law of Kings" and 1 Kings 5:6; 10:14, 21, 26-29 for Solomon's failure to keep the Kings Law.
Wisdom is a gift from God and James gives assurance that God in His goodness desires to grant our petitions. In this he echoes Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, and as his address continues James will return again and again to that significant teaching on the New Covenant Law and apply it to the Old Covenant teachings with which the Jews are familiar. In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus promised God's generous response to our prayers when He said: "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who seeks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened."
Question: But what condition does James say must accompany the petition for divine wisdom in James 1:6?
Answer: Prayer grounded in faith.
Question: Why does James say that a person with doubts will fail in his petition?
Answer: One who prays doubting God is one who possesses a divided heart.
Anyone who has a divided heart and is not fully committed to loving and serving God in works of faith will be easily influenced by the world and its values, tossed about like the waves and pulled between God and the ways of the world. Such a person stands upon a precipice between heaven and destruction and such a person must get right with God before the gift of wisdom can be given or the gift will be abused and discarded.
Question: If true wisdom comes from knowledge of God, what does it mean to "know" God according to sacred Scripture?
Answer: Knowledge of God is the intimate relationship with the Most Holy Trinity through the covenant He has formed with His holy people. True wisdom is the knowledge of the will of God for one's life and that knowledge can never contradict the moral and spiritual laws of that divine covenant. It is the Church who defines the covenant duties, obligations, and blessings of God's people. One who lacks covenant knowledge of God cannot make wise choices and can not possess wisdom as defined in divine terms. St. James will return to a discussion of true wisdom in chapter 3.
James 1:9-11: The curse of the wealthy
"Yahweh says this, 'Let the sage not boast of wisdom, nor the valiant of valor, nor the wealthy of riches! But let anyone who wants to boast, boast of this: of understanding and knowing me. For I am Yahweh, who acts with faithful love, justice, and uprightness on earth; yes, these are what please me, Yahweh declares." Jeremiah 9:22-23
James 1:9:"It is right that the brother in humble circumstances should glory in being lifted up, and the rich in being brought low."
Death is the great leveler of humanity. Accumulated wealth cannot accompany us to the afterlife as the plundering of the wealth of the tombs of ancient kings has proven. Justice may not be found in this life but God has promised us justice in the next.
Question: What did Jesus Ben Sirach, the Old Testament inspired writer of Ecclesiasticus write concerning God's promise of eternal justice in Ecclesiasticus 11:22-28? What is it that determines whether one was successful in one's life?
Answer: The test as to whether our earthly lives were a success of a failure will be determined before the judgment seat of God at the end of our lives.
Question: How did Jesus address this same question in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-20 and how did Paul describe the indestructible quality of good works in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15? Is there treasure that will be awarded to our account beyond the grave?
Answer: Earthly treasures are perishable but heavenly treasures, the acts of mercy we perform in the name of Christ are eternal. These works of mercy and love are the gold and silver that are not burned up but count as heavenly rewards.
James 1:10-11: For the rich will last no longer than the wild flower; the scorching sun comes up, and the grass withers, its flower falls, its beauty is lost. It is the same with the rich: in the middle of a busy life, the rich will wither."
St. James is drawing his teaching from the work of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah in the section of Isaiah known as The Book of the consolation of Israel. In the prediction of the deliverance of God's people Yahweh tells Isaiah in 40:6-8: "A voice said, 'Cry aloud!' And I said, "What shall I cry? All humanity is grass and all its beauty like the wild flower's. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of Yahweh blows on them. The grass is surely the people. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains for ever." James, like the prophet Isaiah warns that man is subject to death so his temporal, earthly glory like the wild flower's is short lived and fleeting.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus called His Apostles and disciples to come up the holy mountain to hear the New Covenant Law of love and justice [Matthew 5:1; Luke 6:12-16]. After the teaching Jesus descended on to the plain where He taught the common men and women who were struggling to survive in a hostile and uncaring world [Luke 6:17]. In the Sermon on the Plain Jesus addresses the unjust conditions of the poor by pronouncing 4 blessings for the humble followed by 4 curses addressed to the rich.
Question: Why does Jesus curse the rich?
Answer: Every earthly blessing is a gift from God; this includes one's wealth. It is therefore the obligation of the wealthy to allow the blessing God has given to them to be shared with those who are not so fortunate. The poor are a blessing to the rich because they give the rich the opportunity to let the works of God work through them. To horde wealth and to withhold God's gifts from the less fortunate, is a sin for which the wealthy will be held accountable. Read the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 in which the poor Lazarus is gathered to the abode of the grace for the righteous dead, while the selfish rich man is made accountable for his sins. Also see CCC # 633 concerning the rich man's fate].
In this passage St. James combines the teaching of the Old Testament prophets with Jesus' teachings concerning the perishable quality of earthly wealth and the obligation of the rich to be a tool of God's mercy to the poor. It was the teaching of the Old Testament inspired prophets and of Jesus the Messiah that the rich must humble themselves and be generous to the poor if they desire to share in the exaltation of the poor when God makes justice reign [see 1 Samuel 2:7-8; Psalms 72:4, 12; 113:7-9; Zephaniah 2:3; Matthew 19:21; 26:11; Mark 10:21; Luke 14:13-21; 18:14, 22, 28-30]!
Answer: He told them "In truth I tell you, it is hard for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven." By the world's standard of wealthy those of us who live in a western democracy are very wealthy and this statement should make us uncomfortable. If your excuse for not giving to the poor is that you can't afford to give you must come to terms with the fact that you cannot afford not to give! Jesus is probably not speaking of a camel literally passing through the eye of a needle but the reality of his analogy may be just as difficult. Jesus was speaking to Galilean fisherman. The thick ropes that secured the ships to the dock were made of camel's hair which did not rot after long exposure to the waters of the Sea of Galilee. The robes were called "camels" and it would be impossible for such a thickly twisted rope to pass through the eye of a needle used for making the fishing nets. However, Jesus does offer a ray of hope to the "rich" at the end of the Matthew 19 passage.
Question: In response to the disciples astonished response: "Who can be saved, then?" in verse 25, what does Jesus reply?
Answer: "By human resources,' he told them, 'this is impossible; for God everything is possible.'" The next time you think you cannot donate to the relief of natural disaster victims or that money is too tight to give to "Food for the Poor", or another charitably organization give, and give from the heart with gratitude for the blessings God has give to you. And when you give say to yourself, "With God nothing is impossible and I have just passed through the eye of the needle!"
Praise of the Upright
"How blessed is anyone who fears Yahweh, who delights in his commandments! His descendants shall be powerful on earth, the race of the honest shall receive blessings: Riches and wealth for his family; his uprightness stands firm for ever, for the honest he shines as a lamp in the dark, generous, tender-hearted, and upright. All goes well for one who lends generously, who is honest in all his dealing; for all time to come he will not stumble, for all time to come the upright will be remembered. [...]. To the needy he gives without stint, his uprightness stands firm for ever; his reputation is founded on strength." Psalm 112:1-6, 9
Questions for group discussion:
Question: If wisdom is defined as knowledge of God which allows one to discern the will of God for one's life how can one discern what action to take in any given circumstance based on this definition? What is a good starting point? And if the righteous decision is difficult and painful, or even brings loss and sacrifice, what does God promise through his apostle St. Paul in Romans 8:28-30? Can you share some examples of making difficult decisions based upon the wisdom of God? Is a "cafeteria Catholic" a participator in the divine life of the Trinity or only a part time companion with a divided heart?
Question: The Old Testament Books of Psalms and Proverbs provide insight for those who seek wisdom and knowledge of God:
What kind of "fear" is the inspired writer referring to concerning our relationship with God? Is there such a thing as "healthy fear"? Did you know that the word "discipline" means "to teach"? What do Psalms 94:12 and Proverbs 3:11 teach concerning the Lord's discipline? What happens when the Lord ceases to "discipline" someone? When someone finds that his sins are always discovered, and he cannot hide from his wrong doing, is that person blessed or cursed?
Catechism references for James 1:1-8 [*indicates Scripture passage quoted in catechism reference]:
#307; 618; 1508; 1521; 2015
#1831; 2633*; 2737*
Resources used in this lesson:
1. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Kenneth D. Whitehead
2. Teachings of the Church Fathers, John R.Willis, S.J.
3. Church History, Bishop Eusebius
4. Church History, Father John Laux, M.A.
5. The Anchor Bible: The Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson
6. Sacra Pagina: James, Father Patrick Hartin
7. Navarre Bible Commentary: Catholic Letters
8. The Faith of the Early Fathers, William A. Jurgens
9. Strong's Concordance
10. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, Robert Eisenman
11. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, edited by Gerald Bray
12. Catechism of the Catholic Church
13. Many Religions, One Covenant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
14. Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Venerable Bede
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