Intro to the Book of St. James by Father Kendall Felton


INTRO
This past Sunday our “homily” was from the book/epistle of James. I put homily in quotation marks because it was more teaching than preaching, but whatever the case I hope you are encouraged to spend some time in the wisdom literature, Old, New, and Apocryphal. James is hardly ever studied in a series on wisdom literature so it might be good to offer a basic apologetic for including James. James is the only epistle that is centered on a discussion of wisdom. It could be debated whether or not James is "centered" on wisdom, but it is the only epistle that could be confused as such.
James 3:13-18 is the heart of the book (I think). James begins his epistle essentially exhorting his readers to get wisdom. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God." The exhortation to get wisdom is reminiscent of the book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 1:2; 4:5
Note: the Proverbs associate fear of the Lord with wisdom (a concept not foreign,
but certainly not explicit in James), but also humility which is central to the epistle.
See Proverbs 15:13; 11:2; James 4:6-10
James is structured more like the wisdom literature (particularly Proverbs, but also Ecclesiastes, and also Sirach/Ecclesiasticus and to a lesser extent the Wisdom of Solomon) than it is like other New Testament epistles, which follow basically and to one degree or another, the Greco Roman letter form. That structure could be called aphoristic. Many of the sections in James have a kind of standalone feel - you can take a chunk of James and simply reflect and meditate on that section without thinking of it terms of what comes before or after. That does not mean however, that the epistle has no "flow." James has a way of linking sections together, not necessarily linearly, by the use of key words and concepts: wisdom, faith, double-mindedness, listen, etc. More so than structure is the content itself that links James to the Jewish wisdom literature, both biblical and extra-biblical. See Figure 1: James and Sirach/Ecclisiasticus and James and Wisdom of Solomon
James is also interested in the content of Leviticus 19. See Figure 2: James & Leviticus 19


EXPO The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock
For all the similarities James has with Jewish Wisdom Literature the most striking thing about the epistle is its similarities with the Teaching of Jesus, particularly, the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5-8 and the Sermon on the Plain of Luke 6. Like the epistle of James, the Sermons on the Mount and Plain are interested in the content of Leviticus 19. The connections between the Sermons and the epistle go much deeper.

See Figures 3 and 4: Jesus and the Epistle of James
So what is going on with the epistle of James?
The Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon the Plain end with the same parable. Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:46-49. Read. Obviously, the parable is about judgement and about the authority or Lordship of Jesus. So you could say that it has something of a soteriological function, but that's not the only thing going on and it’s not why I bring it up: Consider what Jesus says in these sections of the sermons, what a good baptist would call the invitation, and what Jesus says at the end of the parable of the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise." Jesus is in part talking about judgment at the end of the sermons, but the call to those who trust in Jesus and follow him is to build their houses, i.e., their lives on the words of Jesus. To internalize, apply and live out the teaching of Jesus, not only in the sense of doing exactly what he says, but learning to creatively apply and put into action the wisdom of Jesus. We mentioned Sirach earlier. Sirach is itself such application of the book of Proverbs. James has not so much mastered the teachings of Jesus, but he himself has been mastered by them and his epistle is an aphoristic, homiletical, commentary-ish, "riffing" on the wisdom of Jesus.


Understanding the Wisdom of James:
1. Wisdom (or maturity/completeness/perfection; note Luke 6:40; John 13:12-17 and
Matthew 10:24) is a matter of listening to and following Jesus.
2. While there is much about the wisdom of James that is practical and pithy it would
be a mistake to think of it terms of common sense, because there is much about this
wisdom that is counter-intuitive. And in this way wisdom functions worldviewishly. It
is a new way, a transcendent, often counter-intuitive way of looking at the world.
3. Wisdom is a gift of grace. Wisdom does not come by naked experience and it is not
raw knowledge or intelligence, but it is a matter of revelation and reverent fear and
submission to the Lord which enables us to grasp that revelation and to build a life on it;
it is a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.


JAMES & SIRACH/ECCLESIASTICUS
James 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone
who is never at fault in what they say is
perfect, able to keep their whole body in
check.
1:12-15 Blessed is the one who perseveres
under trial because, having stood the test,
that person will receive the crown of life that
the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is
tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by
evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each
person is tempted when they are dragged
away by their own evil desire and enticed.
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives
birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown,
gives birth to death.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should
ask God, who gives generously to all without
finding fault, and it will be given to you.
5:1-6 Now listen, you rich people, weep and
wail because of the misery that is coming on
you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have
eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are
corroded. Their corrosion will testify against
you and eat your flesh like fire. You have
hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The
wages you failed to pay the workers who
mowed your fields are crying out against you.
The cries of the harvesters have reached the
ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on
earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have
fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
You have condemned and murdered the
innocent one, who was not opposing you.
Sirach 19:16 People sometimes make a slip, without
meaning what they say; and which of us has
never sinned by speech?
15:11-17 Do not say, 'The Lord was
responsible for my sinning,' for he does not
do what he hates. Do not say, 'It was he who
led me astray,' for he has no use for a sinner.
The Lord hates all that is foul, and no one
who fears him will love it either. He himself
made human beings in the beginning, and
then left them free to make their own
decisions. If you choose, you will keep the
commandments and so be faithful to his will.
He has set fire and water before you; put out
your hand to whichever you prefer. A human
being has life and death before him;
whichever he prefers will be given him.


Wisdom of Solomon
7:7 Wherefore I prayed, and understanding
was given me: I called upon God, and the
spirit of wisdom came to me.
2:10 Let us oppress the poor righteous man,
let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the
ancient gray hairs of the aged. (This is what
the “ungodly” say.)


JAMES & SIRACH/ECCLESIASTICUS
James
3:6-8 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil
among the parts of the body. It corrupts the
whole body, sets the whole course of one’s
life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea
creatures are being tamed and have been
tamed by mankind, but no human being can
tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of
deadly poison.
Wisdom of Solomon
7:18-20 The beginning, ending, and midst of
the times: the alterations of the turning of the
sun, and the change of seasons: The circuits
of years, and the positions of stars: The
natures of living creatures, and the furies of
wild beasts: the violence of winds, and the
reasonings of men: the diversities of plants
and the virtues of roots:


JAMES & LEVITICUS 19
James
2:1-6, 15-16, 25
5:12
5:1-6
2:1-11
4:11
2:8; 4:1
Leviticus
10 Do not go over your vineyard a second
time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.
Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I
am the Lord your God.
12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so
profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired
worker overnight.
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show
partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great,
but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander
among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your
neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your
heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you
will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge
against anyone among your people, but love
your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.


James and the Sermons
James
1:2
1:4
1:5-6
1:10
1:17
1:19-20
1:22-23
2:5
2:10
2:11
2:13
3:12
3:18
4:4
4:8
4:10
4:11 (5:9)
4:13-15
5:2-3
5:10
5:12
Joy in Suffering
Be perfect
Ask in faith
Riches are like grass
The Father gives good things
Do not be angry
Hearing and doing
God chooses the poor
Doing the whole law
Murder and adultery
Mercy triumphs
Fruit indicates the tree
Peacemakers
Serving two masters
Pure in heart
God exalts the humble
Do not judge
Not worry about future
Moth-eaten treasures
Prophets as examples
Do not swear
Matthew 5-8
5:11-12 (Luke 6:22)
5:48 (Luke 6:36)
7:7 (Luke 11:9)
6:30 (Luke 12:28)
7:11 (Luke 11:13)
5:22
7:24-26 (Luke 6:47-49)
5:3, 5 (Luke 6:20)
5:18-19
5:21-30
5:7 (Luke 6:36)
7:16-18 (Luke 6:43-44)
5:9
6:24 (Luke 16:13)
5:8
5:5
7:1-2
6:34
6:19-21
5:11-12
5:34-37


THE WISDOM OF JESUS
THE CRUX OF THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Matthew 5:3-10
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of
righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


THE CRUX OF JAMES’ EPISTLE
James 3:13-18
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it
by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes
from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition
in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such
“wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly,
unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish
ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then
peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good
fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace
reap a harvest of righteousness.