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.

The Letter of St. James

We traditionally acknowledge this letter to be from James, brother of Jesus, first bishop of the church in Jerusalem. It is very much in the style of Old Testament wisdom, but reflects the practicality of the new faith in Christ.

James says: “Do not let class distinctions enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord.” And he goes on to say that we are all too ready to welcome the well-dressed stranger into our gathering, but dismiss or humiliate the one who is poorly dressed. “Listen, my brothers, it was those who were poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those who love Him.”

We can love the world and its rewards, or we can love God. We can’t love both. “No one can serve two masters,” Jesus said. If we pass among the worldly as one of them, if we are accepted in all the right places by all the right people, we will have had the reward we deserve: the World. We won’t get the reward God promises to the poor and faithful: His kingdom, the kingdom that is not just a future promise, but the life of the Spirit in which we share now.

According to James, we cannot separate the life of faith from the life of works. By our works the world will know us and the Lord will know us. He will know if we have been faithful by what we have done for the least of His children, not to earn a reward from Him, but simply from our love for Him. Our love for Him is expressed in every moment of our lives, from how we live and work to how we dress and speak.

For example, if I love my husband, I do not go around acting as if I don’t know him, smiling and flirting with other men. I don’t dress in a way that would give the impression that I am interested in other intimate relationships. I don’t say things about him that would shame or humiliate him. I don’t tolerate other people shaming him.

Yet Christians are tempted to act as if they don’t know their Lord. They may dress as if they belong to the world that despises Christ, that disbelieves God, that jokes and shames about the sacred. They may speak in a secular and irreverent manner. They are often ashamed to pray in public, or give a greeting of peace or a blessing. Will the Lord know them at that Day when all will be known?

We are to be cheerful prophets of the kingdom, not gloomy and harsh and judgmental. While we live in a critique of the world, we are still to be welcoming to the lost who seek Christ. The Lord makes it clear: Our life in the world is to be a life of love even when we are not loved ourselves.