More Reflections on the Letter of St. James

The Orthodox believe that James, the brother of Jesus, was a stepbrother, one of Joseph’s sons by his late wife. This makes sense, since if James were the child of Mary, he would be younger than Jesus, not yet at an age of respect that would place him as Bishop of Jerusalem soon after the Resurrection. He seems to be an elder already in the Jewish community, and is the logical person to resolve a dispute between the factions of Peter and Paul. He was a person of wisdom in the Law, and a man of discernment in the Spirit.

I did not care much for this epistle when I was young. I suppose that I still wanted something of the world, that I still wanted to have “fun” in a worldly sense. I was a beautiful, fashionable young woman, and the praise of the world is so hard to give up! After all, we are taught this by the world from infancy:  To be beautiful is to be loved.

When we finally mature enough in our faith that we can leave the world behind, with all its temptations, lies and desperation, we then find ourselves hurt and rejected even by those who say they love us. But we cannot stand with a foot in each canoe! The Lord, or the world…

A man cannot serve two masters, for he will love one and despise the other. The masters will give conflicting orders, and one will be more accommodating than the other, and the servant will be torn between the two. It is immoral to take wages from two masters with opposing interests; the servant will betray one eventually.

If Christ is Lord, we cannot camp with Satan in the world. We cannot eat from the kettle of the enemy. The Lord will know us as traitors to His will. And we cannot make an excuse to Him about it. Only true repentance and return to His ways will suffice.

In Jesus Christ, our Lord, God and Saviour, we are given the bread of heaven, the cup of salvation. Nothing else is needful for eternal life but Him. The bread of the world is ashes in our mouths, the dry dust of the lies of the enemy.

Non-aggression as it is lived

I was a teenager in the 70s – Vietnam, peace movement, tie-dye, levis and barefeet. I had just pushed myself out of the conservative Baptist Church before the big leap (baptism, that is). I considered myself artistic, publishing bits of poetry here and there, doing some very amateurish artwork. My goal (can you believe?) was to backpack through Europe and parts of Asia. (I did not do that.)

Vietnam was the back story of our lives then. It was not discussed in our household. At school, we debated and argued and got quite polemic. I was definitely a peace advocate, and it was all quite exciting to take the radical stance.

Then I moved out into the real world and things were different. Job, kids, studies, and the concerns of everyday life diluted my enthusiasm. The strong American view of military might subdued my arguments. I became blase about peace and forgot about non-aggression. If anything, I was proud of my personal strength and agility. Although I have never had to face a human opponent, I learned to shoot a gun, to box and to fight with the sword.

And I called myself a Christian.

Okay, I never had to hurt anyone, but I was prepared to do so. The martial arts are good exercise. I have a thousand excuses for leaving behind that gospel I had absorbed as a child. Jesus did not fight back, even though he could have called on all the forces of heaven in his defense.

This is more profound that we would like to admit. It is incredibly hard to be defenceless when you have the ability to defend yourself. There’s that scene in the movie “Witness” where Harrison Ford, in Amish clothing, punches a guy who is harassing the Amish neighbor. We all cheer, at least inside. But the Amish didn’t see it that way. They saw someone who looked like them doing something they would not do. Why won’t they fight back?

Because they are following Jesus, and he did not fight back.

Martyr means witness. We can witness to the gospel everyday in a non-aggressive way. We can be defenceless against the taunts and hostility of the world. We can change radically the way we live, by giving up selfishness and worldliness. This is a non-aggressive stance, too, that we live with only what we need, that we don’t participate in the world of television, shopping and consumerism, the world where getting ahead means a lot of other people are left behind or left out.