Grace to you!
Yesterday, I promised I would share more background information to understanding the writings and teachings of Saint James, the writer of the Letter of James. Let’s get to it.
Many bible scholars believe James is the one called the brother of Jesus to distinguish him from James the brother of John. He was the presider at the Council of Jerusalem AD 50; and his letter must have been one of the first to be written in the New Testament, probably between 45-50 AD, before the Jerusalem Council.
His letter is called a Catholic Epistle because it is written for application to the universal church, even though his immediate audience was the recent Jewish converts. His main objective was to correct the impression that faith is all it takes to be saved (sola fide, faith alone); hence, his famous quotation “show me your faith and I will show you my good works” (Jas 2:18). He wanted to correct the wrong impression seen among early believers, who were living unholy and immoral lives as if to say faith was a license to live any way we wished. We see the same problems he talked about even today in many Christian communities.
Many believers live a life that is not consistent with the faith and they claim that “have faith and do whatever” will save them. The disconnect or dichotomy between faith and discipline we see among many believers and theologians today, isn’t consistent with the bible teachings, nor with St. James or even with St. Paul, whom many take as the Father of faith-alone teaching.
So as not to digress from the message of today, let us look at the reading for our reflection, namely James 4:1-10. It’s a reading which could be said to be on the theme of rejecting friendship with the world.
Many times we want to live holy lives and we have many temptations to contend. James suggests the first thing is to know how evil deeds spring. He traces it to lustful or ambitious desires. Many years before this teaching, Jesus saw also in the likes of his chosen apostles, the same desire of jealousy and infighting for relevance; hence, he warned the apostles to be watchful and adopt the unassuming, simplicity of the child as the true way to greatness (Mark 9:30-39).
You will likely say, “Wait a minute. Do you mean to tell me I shouldn’t have desires at all since you say the source of temptations is desires?” Not what I mean.
There are good desires – the desire to be the best, to love God more, to serve others, etc. These are good desires. Saint James was talking about desires that have wrong intentions or grow out of the ego-driven and lustful intents.
I love how the great scripture scholar William Barclay proved, from ancient writers who are not even Christians, that the root of all evils is desire. We use to say it is the love of money, but rather, the love of money is an example of desires gone evil.
Barclay said that Philo, Lucian, Plato, and Cicero, all renowned ancient Greek philosophers, agree that unceasing and bitter conflict arises from unbridled desires.
When you have the time, I would recommend you read chapter two of my book, Word for a Wounded World – Vol. I. It treated so well how we fall into temptations in what I called “the seven steps to a fall.” It may be a wonderful read for you this week.
In addition, what you may take home is to watch your desires; make sure they don’t spring from jealousy, and are not ego-driven. Once you keep them in check, you won’t fall victim of bitter conflict.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Readings for Tuesday, May 17, 2016, Week 7 Ordinary Time: James 4:1-10; Mark 9:30-37]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.