The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary - 22nd Ordinary (Day 3)

James 1:17-27

17 Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. 18 He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.
19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. 20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.
22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.
26 If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. 27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.

It’s hard to avoid the thrust of v.19 this election season. James addresses the Christian community (“everyone,” v.19) with three admonitions.

-“be quick to listen”

-“slow to speak” and

-“slow to anger”

It is difficult to gainsay the pertinence of these admonitions for American Christians at this time. Closed earlids and open mouths almost assure the miscommunication or talking past one another that leads to anger. And anger we have in spades this election season. Rage. Irrational commotion. And none of that, James tells us, can lead to “God’s righteousness” (that is, the right ordering of lives and relationships that God desires).

The remedy James provides is, perhaps surprisingly, not self-help or moral strenuousness. We won’t better our capacity to listen, refrain from speaking, and avoid anger by trying to do these things. No amount of “should-a, could-a, got-a” will get us where God wants us to go!

Rather, James advises that we stop looking at ourselves and our capacities (“humility”) and turn our attention instead to God (“welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you,” v.21). This and this alone is the way to the freedom (v.25) God intends for us. No “should-a, could-a, got-a” here; only “you are, you can, you shall” that comes from the “implanted Word” which alone can save us (v.21), set us free from ourselves to live for others.

Humility – seeing ourselves as we really are, de-centers us, while welcoming God’s Word re-centers us where we need to be. This is, of course, where the struggle lies for most of us. We keep moving back to center, rejecting God’s gracious presence and provision for ordering our lives. The group Tenth Avenue North sings this struggle well in their song “By Your Side.” Give a listen.

We are forgetful observers of who we are in God’s eyes. We see what his Word says about us, and then re-center ourselves, forget what that Word has made known to us and blunder about in our self-centeredness, failing to control our tongues and giving the lie to our devotion (v.26). When we remember what God’s Word has shown us, however, that is, if we practice what we have seen and been told, we demonstrate our freedom by genuine concern for others, especially the last and the least in our world. This is how we escape being shaped by the world rather than escaping its influence and serving those in need (v.27).

This is true devotion - a centeredness on God that produces in and through us the fruit of lives lived in gratitude to God and service to the needy of his world. May this be true for us this day, tomorrow, and every tomorrow God grants till kingdom come!


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