This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news;
End Impunity Day-Journalists protest crimes against journalists
Patience in Suffering
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved,* until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.*9Beloved,* do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved,* take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
12 Above all, my beloved,* do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘Yes’ be yes and your ‘No’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
Although much of what James writes, comes from a shared Jewish store of wisdom, he can always illuminate an argument with his own touch. Here the reference to the farmer who knows how to wait for the early rains and the late rains, lights up his encouragement for believers to wait for the harvest of God’s kingdom, which may also need the late rains (which have not yet come) as well as the early ones (which have come). He hints that the believers of his generation may be living in the early part of a long process. Believers today, with a greater knowledge of human history and future prospects than James had, may still take his hint that they’re only in the springtime of God’s purpose in the world.
On the other hand, there is a sense of urgency in James’ view of God’s timetable. God is “near”, indeed He is “at the door”. This is in line with Jesus’ teaching that nobody knows God’s timetable but faithful people must “watch and pray”, that is they must stay awake, as he asked his disciples to do in the garden of Gethsemane; so that they, unlike his disciples, will be ready to face any immediate crisis. God is near: he comes in the events which test faith and demand loyalty.
Another surprise for the reader is his quotation from Jesus (Matthew 5:33-7) about not using oaths. Perhaps Matthew wrote his gospel at the same time as this letter of James and may draw from the same Jewish-Christian tradition as the letter. Aside from the gospels, the early Christian literature we have, mainly in the form of letters, makes less use of the teachings of Jesus than we might expect. The history of that literature, that most of the letters were written before the Gospels, may reflect a situation in which the basic message of God’s love for Jews and Gentiles through Messiah Jesus, together with the experience of community life “in the Spirit”, were the frontline elements of faith, while the story of Jesus’ life and teachings were communicated over time by teachers, as nourishment for Christian living. There may have been a danger that the “Jewish” Jesus and his heritage would be lost to the church. The Gospels certainly guard against that with their stories of Jesus and their records of his teaching. Perhaps the Letter of James, with its practical wisdom and memories of the Lord’s teaching, is doing a similar job.
In any case, Jesus’ teaching on honesty of speech reminds the reader of the straightforward clarity of his teaching which seems worlds away from the latest church conference on “missiological strategy in a post-Christian society.” Jesus, and James, tell us: get on with life, and in the midst of it, let your yes be yes and your no be no.
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
18Then Jesus* told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.”4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’*6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Jesus’s parable seems to say, “If the unjust judge gives the widow justice just to shut her up, how much more will God listen the prayers of faithful people and speedily give them the justice they crave.” That interpretation would be in line with one of persistent forms of parable attributed to Jesus: “if an (evil) human being will do X, how much more will God do it.” The form allows Jesus to depict certain kinds of rogues with a broad humour, as here. But Luke seems to notice something wrong with it. If there is no delay in God’s response to the faithful, why might the “Son of Man (Jesus returning with his saints) find no faith on earth? And why does Luke put this saying of Jesus here?
The answer is that by the time Luke was writing, the hopes of some people for God’s kingdom to arrive in its fullness had been disappointed. Perhaps Luke already thought it would be a long haul. If so, what could be made of the teachings of Jesus which seemed to promise a more immediate transformation of the world? Luke’s answer is that in spite of God’s apparent delay, believers are to hold on to Jesus’ promises. They are to consider it unthinkable that God will not hear the voices of his people. Surely he will respond. It’s almost as if Jesus’ parable is being used against the slowness of God’s justice.
But then maybe we start to think that the unjust judge doesn’t hear the widow; he only hears a noise and gets rid of it by giving her what she wants. Maybe the just judge hears the voices and does listen, but just because he is a just judge he doesn’t immediately act: he waits till all the evidence is in, because of course, direct divine action means the end of history. So, yes, he hears and will act as speedily as he can……but when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? For this faith in the nearness of a loving God (he listens) and the distance of his justice (he delays) is hard to hold. But this is Jesus’ question and he knew as well as anyone that God’s justice on earth is not immediate.
The justice God does give to human beings now is the justice they make for themselves by listening to his word and responding to his spirit. (Paul Celan, who experienced Nazi terror wrote, “Pray to us God; we are here.”) This justice is not negligible and where it institutionalised in the rule of law it should always be valued and defended. Where it is absent, faithful people must strive to create it. For in such ways God’s desire to answer the cries of his people is honoured, some of those who suffer injustice are rescued, and faith in God’s more complete rescue is preserved, so that when the Son of Man comes, he will find faith on the earth.