Advent 3: 11 December James 5:7-10
The letter of James includes a number of segments which stand easily on their own. Our passage is like this. The previous segment attacked luxury and what follows addresses the use of oaths. This passage is about patience with oneself and with others. It assumes that history will soon reach its climax with the coming of the Lord. While we must have difficulty with the prediction that that day is near - two thousand years have since elapsed! - we can sense the point of the exhortation well enough in our own terms.
The alternative to patience is some kind of panic. This usually assumes that everything is in my control or should be. So I become anxious and I fear that not everything will get done. I then push myself and others around me. We can easily get ourselves into a state of stress with very negative consequences - not least for our health. While we won't do a lot for ourselves by imagining that perhaps the great day of the Lord will come very soon, there is a sense in which a move to patience depends on developing the faith that life does not stand and fall with my action; there is another factor. I am not responsible for everything that happens. I can let go and trust. This may not be in a theory that there is a god who has predetermined everything, but there is a sense of letting go in the faith that ultimately God is and God moves and lives and loves beyond our control and our hard work.
The rural image invites us to reflect on the farmer. The notion that we can make the seed grow by worrying about it is an accurate enough parody of the way we sometimes behave. Our anxieties will not add anything. They will diminish us and those around us. This is a theme of the Sermon on the Mount which finds many echoes in James and may have been known in some early form by its writer. The message about trust and anxiety in Matt 6:25-34 leads straight into the exhortation that we not condemn one another (7:1-5). The same happens here. 5:9 addresses the issue of judgemental behaviour in the church, following the same sequence. The connection is very appropriate because fear and anxiety frequently produce blame which may be self directed but is frequently also directed towards others. It is destructive. We don't have to get stuck in those ruts. The writer, almost with a smile, reminds the hearers that judgement is not our role. Leave that to God or to Christ (5:9)!
5:10 employs the biblical prophets as an example of putting up with suffering. 5:11 will mention Job. The message may relate to Christians being pressured and persecuted in the world of their time, especially in the regions mentioned in the opening of the letter. But it relates equally to being on the wrong end of behaviour dictated by people's anxiety and blame. We have to hold up under such pressure and not join the blaming game. It is easy to be tipped off course by attacks. That can happen at an interpersonal level. It can happen in the church community; it can also apply in the wider community and in international affairs.
Hate is a glad competitor of love and rejoices at the opportunity of asserting its authority in all of those spheres, with the result that we join the crucifiers. The alternative is not to fold or become a doormat, but to remain faithful to love. The author, who sometimes writes as if he has no links at all with Christ (but elsewhere shows he has), could easily have cited Christ as the example to follow as well as the prophets. In extremes such faithfulness leads to crucifixion. Patience is an invitation to trust, but with eyes wide open and courage not to play the blaming games or to try to be god for our little world.
Gospel: Advent 3: 11 December Matthew 11:2-11
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