Friday of week 7 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Jas 5:9-12

As we come towards the end of the letter, James now has some more encouraging words for his readers.

First, he tells them they should stop grumbling against each other and show more tolerance and patience.  The community should not be divided.  It is a sign of a lack of love among them.  And, as we were warned yesterday, the time of reckoning may be closer than we think.  “The judge stands at the gate”, that is, Jesus who will come to take us to himself.  The New Testament insistence on imminence arises from the teaching that the “last days” began with the Incarnation and the appearance of Jesus among us.  We have been living in the “last days” ever since.

The next great event in redemptive history is Christ’s second coming.  The New Testament does not say when it will take place, but its certainty is never questioned and believers are consistently admonished to watch for it.  It is in this sense that James speaks of Christ’s return as “imminent”.  And, of course, the exact time we do not know either and it will be different for each one.  And that is precisely why we need to be ready at all times.

Instead of grumbling against the hardships they have to undergo, James suggests they might take as models some of the prophets of the Old Testament, who often suffered many trials in their work for God.  Or they might imitate the quiet perseverance of Job, who never once uttered a word of complaint as he saw his family and possessions disappear before his eyes.  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord!”  (Incidentally, this is the only place in the New Testament where Job is mentioned although Job 5:13 is quoted in 1 Cor 3:19.)

Lastly, as Jesus did in another context, he cautions them against indiscriminate swearing.  First, because it can involve disrespect to God (especially if what is being sworn about is not true).  “By heaven or by earth” were substitutes for the original form of an oath, to circumvent its binding force and to avoid pronouncing the holy name of God.  James’ words are very close to Christ’s in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:33-37).  James is not condemning the taking of solemn oaths, such as God’s before Abraham (Heb 6:13) or Jesus’ before Caiaphas (Mt 26:63-64) or Paul’s (Rom 1:9; 9:1) or a man’s before the Lord (Exod 22:11).  Rather, he is condemning the flippant use of God’s name or a sacred object to guarantee the truth of what is spoken.

On the contrary, he tells the community, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’.”  Apart from leading to disrespectful or trivial use of God’s name, Christians should be known for their integrity and transparency.  They are people of their word.  So it should not be necessary to convince others of the truth of what they are saying by resorting to swearing oaths.

It is a quality every one of us should be known for in our relations with those around us.

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