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Posts Tagged ‘James’

Is it just me, or does it feel as though our world is falling down around us?

Full disclosure: I am not an alarmist, a conspiracy theorist, or an eschatological-narrative binge-er. In fact, I have no stomach for such talk—which always strikes me as historically naive—and am enough of a coward that I generally seek to avoid conversation with … well … alarmists, conspiracy theorists, and eschatological-narrative binge-ers.

This is probably not a virtue.

Still, recent massacres perpetrated to the echo of ‘Allahu Akbar!’, the desperation of Syrian refugees on their self-described ‘Journey of Death’ towards Europe, the reflexive move of otherwise steady state governors in my country to bar these bedraggled people from entry into our states and cities …

Addiction stomping all over family and friends.

My rudderless people shuffling toward electing the loudest shouter in the field.

Well, I could go on, but the news and the palpably frightened look in the eyes of people whom I’m not accustomed to seeing afraid make me doubly aware in these days that our world is badly broken. And, therefore, in need of radical repair.

Soon, please.

Then, there’s the Book of James.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:7–8 ESV)

The incrementalist side of my heart—which prevails in most arguments—hopes that healing for our bleeding world does not require the radical solution abbreviated by the New Testament’s ἡ παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου (the coming/appearance of the Lord). If history’s course were up to me, I’d prefer a steady permeation of human experience with the leavening power of Jesus’ love, a smooth entrance ramp to an even better highway if you please.

Reunion with our Lord would be the slightest tweak of an upward trending. Most would see it coming. Most would welcome him.

Alas, I fear things may not be up to me.

Maranatha! (μαράνα θά: ‘Our Lord, come!’) became a familiar phrase on early Christian lips, both in jubilation and in trembling, when martyrdom’s harsh whip made it a more complex matter to jubilate. This cry of early Syriac Christians must have resonated with deep poignance, for it finds its way untranslated into the New Testament’s Greek record. It is not the only time in the New Testament record that a profoundly moving moment was remembered in the language in which human beings first heard it articulated (Aramaic/Syriac), even though the language of record was Greek. Some of Jesus’ most signature moments were remembered in just this way, as they were experienced.

The times were neither convenient nor abstract then.

Nor, it feels to me, are they convenient or abstract this morning.

So does this morning’s reading from the New Testament book of James find its path without friction into my heart.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient.

The farmer’s fruit is, oh, so welcome, when it finally comes to harvest.

But the waiting, the doubting, the patience, the inscrutable mysteries of germination and maturation, of rains early and late. These things are a holy torture, in a farmer’s field and in a weeping world where evil swarms like locusts and confusion suffocates like a leaden sky.

It comes to one as something like gentle rain, this realization that our earliest sisters and brothers needed both the urging toward patience and the permission to cry ‘Our Lord, come!’

As I do, this unsettled morning.

μαράνα θά.

 

 

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Our organs of perception and expression are not meant to function at the same speed.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19–20 ESV)

Biblical wisdom trains the senses to calibrate their velocities both with reality and with the opportunity to construct community.

Hearing is meant to spring purposefully towards opportunity. Quick out of the blocks, sustaining a sprint, rounding the corner for a lap even faster than the last one.

Listen quickly, listen long, listen often, wisdom would tell us. Be quick about it. Time’s a’wastin’.

Yet speech ought to take its time. Talk needs to meander slowly down the street, pause often to distract itself with the goings on, creep towards its moment. If it never gets to the end of the block, little is lost. If our power of speech feels unappreciated, well, let it learn to enjoy the occasional time-out.

And then there’s anger. Not exactly an expressive capacity, it is the fast-acting venom the poisons in direct proportion to its velocity. Let it stall, stumble, stand idly in self-forgetfulness. The less that is seen of anger, the better.

Critically, the anger of man does not produce the righteous of God.

Anger gets itself up into a bother, comes quickly to feel righteously indignant, makes all sorts of unnecessary speeches. Enough already. Slow the thing down before it hurts somebody. God is rarely in the anger. He lives elsewhere, with rare exceptions.

Hurry up to hear. Slow down the tongue-wagging. Make anger a tortoise.

Know your speeds.

 

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A modest tributary to the stream of biblical wisdom carries the thought that it is proper to choose mourning over celebration. The funeral home is, at moments, a more wisely chosen venue than the dance hall. Sadness, sometimes, produces when rejoicing has become an amiable pickpocket, slapping backs and telling jokes while relieving us of our substance. (more…)

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James, the author of a New Testament letter ‘to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion’, is sure that the Christian community has no place for favoritism based on wealth or status. His rhetoric is nourished by the Hebraic legacy of a divine Turner of the Tables. YHWH, by these lights, is almost before anything else a liberating God who brings low the mighty and arrogant and lifts up the humble poor:

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

The novelty of James’ expression lies not so much in his conception of the Lord as social revolutionary—this has a long pedigree—but rather in his instruction to members of the Christian community that they should enthusiastically discover their own identity by this same light. The ‘believer who is lowly’ is urged to boast in being raised up. The rich person, paradoxically, is to find delight and a defining role in the experience of ‘being brought low’.

Surely James intends that the relativization of all rankings which the natural order of things imposes upon human beings should be welcomed by followers of Jesus as an invigorating and delighting redefinition of community. The rich man should not only embrace the poor man with unembarrassed glee. He should find great joy in doing so.

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