Walking in Peace with St. James: Chapter 5

St. James

Opening Prayer…

St. James!
We come to you in eager pilgrimage.

We come as part of a great throng of pilgrims
who through the centuries have come to this place,
where you are pilgrim and host, apostle and patron.
We come to you today because we are on a common journey.
Place yourself, patron of pilgrims, at the head of our pilgrimage.
Teach us, apostle and friend of the Lord, the WAY which leads to him.
Open us, preacher of the Gospel, to the TRUTH you learned from your Master’s lips.
Give us, witness of the faith,
the strength always to love the LIFE Christ gives.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Chapter 5:  Warning to the Rich, Patience and Oaths, Anointing of the Sick, Confession and Intercession and Conversion of Sinners

And so we end the Letter of St. James with a plea for patience and conversion.  We get one final glimpse into the concrete life of the community.  We see that they have institutionalized healing in a ritual of anointing and prayer for the sick by the elders of the church.  They have also developed some form of mutual confession and prayer for forgiveness (Reading the New Testament, p. 299).  Perhaps these sacramental moments of grace helped heal the divisions among them?  Do they for us?

This section on the Anointing of the Sick causes questions about the sacrament.  The seven sacraments weren’t instituted until the Council of Trent in 1716-19.  So Anointing of the Sick was not considered a sacrament at the time of James yet, but it does appear that church elders (presbyters of the church) were the ones to do it.  Was it considered a holy action continuing the work of Jesus?  What about other faiths who do not follow the Catholic tradition of the seven sacraments…what would they make of this passage?  (Note that Martin Luther did consider dropping this book from the canon.)  (Brown, Raymond E.  An Introduction to the New Testament, p.  736-746)

James has come increasingly to be regarded as a book of the church:  it depicts the practical like of a community where people pray for each other and confess their sins to one another, and where people are committed to social ministry on behalf of those in distress.  It is a community where the suffering and the cheerful gather for prayer and praise, a place where diseases are healed, sins are forgiven, and souls are saved from death.  The community is composed of people who love the Lord and who are committed to loving their neighbors.  But they are also sinners, people who struggle with temptation and sometimes yield to partiality, pride and worldly cravings.  The letter echoes the Didache, an early Christian writing, which said, “If you can bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you cannot, do as much as you can.”  (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 460-461)  What better can we do as church?

How might these teachings help you this Lent?  find peace?

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