Immersed in Christ: February 17, 2020
Monday, Week Six in Ordinary Time
Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.
(Responsorial: Psalm 119)
Begin James 1:1-11: The author’s use of the title “servant” and his tone of authority suggest a church official. He might be the “brother [same word as cousin] of the Lord” who was the leader of the Jewish community in Jerusalem that Paul acknowledged as a “pillar” of the Church. In the West, the Roman tradition identified him with James, son of Alpheus, one of the Twelve, but “in the East, the liturgy, the Fathers and subsequent tradition have rejected that identification,” as do most non-Catholic biblical scholars. Among today’s Catholic experts the Roman view “is now largely abandoned.”
What gives the letter its distinctive quality is a concern that the faith of the recipients be not merely theoretical or abstract, but implemented in action, in every aspect of their lives. In a situation where trials and temptations abound, and where the poor suffer at the hands of the rich, James exhorts them to joy, endurance, wisdom, confident prayer, and faithful response to the liberating word of God in a hostile world as they wait for the coming of the Lord. 1
Does James begin with more comfort or more challenge? He says: “Count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial.” Why? “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” And you should all desire to “let endurance come to its perfection, so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing.”
What James is assuming here is that all Christians really want to “be fully mature and lacking in nothing.” That is, that they want to grow spiritually and arrive at the “perfection of love.” This is a dubious assumption, even though the bishops at Vatican II taught it should be taken for granted:
It is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.... Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection. 2
Any preacher or teacher who assumes this has been assimilated into Catholic culture is making a big mistake. As big a mistake as assuming that all who believe in Christ are disciples. Disciples are “students.” The only disciples Jesus has are those who are committed to learn. And “committed” means they have chosen a concrete way to grow into knowledge of Christ’s mind and heart.
It takes wisdom to choose this. So James continues: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God... and it will be given you.” But he adds: “Ask in faith, never doubting.” Perseverance depends on commitment; commitment depends on faith. Do you believe Jesus will enlighten you? And that his Light is Life? If not, where do you seek life?
In Mark 8:11-13 Jesus refuses to work an impressive miracle to give the Pharisees a sign. The sign he gives is the Church living visibly as his body, alive with his life. The miracle is, he empowers us to persevere as disciples.
Initiative: Believe in the miracle. Commit to regular reading and reflection.
View Today's Readings Here
1 See the 1968 and 1990 editions of the Jerome Biblical Commentary.
2 Decree on Ecumenism no. 4; The Church no. 40.