THE LETTER OF ST. JAMES
LESSON 8: A WARNING PRACTICE CHRISTIAN CHARITY OR PREPARE FOR JUDGMENT

My Lord and my God,
By Your word and by Your wisdom You created all things in heaven and on earth, and set Your creation in order. All You have created is ordered to Your Divine Word, Christ Jesus who inaugurated this last age of man by coming to live among men, granting the petition of faithful men in women in the past ages who cried out to You in their need, as Moses cried "If I have found favor in your eyes, show me your face", and as David cried out in the psalms "Show me your face, O lord." You showed us Your face - a face of deepest love and a face of suffering which You asked us to mirror in our own lives: to live lives of self-sacrificial love and obedience. Give us the courage to live in imitation of Jesus our Savior and to follow St. James' teaching on living lives of active faith and Christian charity. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.

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"The true sign of a Christian is this: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to endure hunger and thirst, to be poor in spirit, to be humble and contemptible in one's own eyes."
Macarius of Egypt, First Syriac Epistle 2

"There is no room for self-delusion. Any one of you who thinks he is wise by worldly standards must learn to be a fool in order to be really wise. For the wisdom of the world is folly to God. As scripture says: 'He traps the crafty in the snare of their own cunning,' and again: 'The Lord knows the plans of the wise and how insipid there are.' So there is to be no boasting about human beings: everything belongs to you ,....the world, life or death, the present or the future - all belong to you; but you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God."
1 Corinthians 3:18-23

St. James outlined a 3 part approach to the wisdom of Christian living in James 1:19: "Remember this, my dear (beloved) brothers, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger..." In chapter two James encouraged his audience to be "quick to listen" to the wisdom of God by being quick to respond. Faith is not passive; true faith must be living and active [James 2:17, 26]. And then in chapter 3 James addressed the necessity of being "slow to speak" so that the tongue may be used to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ in truth and love, but James also provided the warning that speech that harms or is false will bring a stricter judgment [James 3:1].

Continuing in his theme of correct Christian living, in chapter 4 James admonished Christians and Jews to avoid the passions of human anger, which is the third part in his approach to Christian living that he introduced in James 1:19: "Everyone should be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to human anger; God's saving justice is never served by human anger; so do away with all impurities and remnants of evil." Such anger, James warns, leads to "battles and wars" within the community. In chapter 4 James also introduced the concept of friendship with God which is supported by his previous assertion that the Christian's deeds of love and charity demonstrate oneness with God. James promised that the fruit of friendship in unity with the Trinity will be the gift of Godly wisdom.

To seek Godly wisdom has been a major theme of James' letter. To live in wisdom, according to St. James, is to live wholly in submission to God which gives the believer his uniquely Christian identity and is evidenced by living a holy life through commitment to the whole of God's "law of freedom" [1:25; 2:10-13], with respect to one's personal integrity, with respect to responding to others with love and mercy [2:13] and with respect to solidarity with the Church . To live in God's wisdom and to bear the fruits of Godly wisdom is a gift which James has identified as coming "from above" a gift of God the Holy Spirit [James 3:17-18]. The evidence of this renewed spirit is found in one's purity of heart characterized by being "unstained by the world," as James defined true religion in James 1:27. The true believer is in a relationship of friendship with God that inspires every aspect of the believer's life defines every action and interaction with others in which the believer expresses his purity of love for God in his meekness [3:14] and in his love of neighbor [2:8]. This pure and self-sacrificial love permeates the life of the believer, extending to his family, his faith community, and the outside non-Christian community 2:1]. To James, being "holy" is being wholeheartedly in a relationship with God being both human and divine through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

St. James identified the failure to live in Godly wisdom as springing from a failure to pray as one should in James 4:2c-3: "It is because you do not pray that you do not receive; when you do pray and do not receive, it is because you prayed wrongly, wanting to indulge your passions." This is a theme James introduced in James 1:5-6, "Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously and without scolding; it will be given. But prayer must be made with faith, and no trace of doubt." This teaching recalls Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:7-8, "Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds. Everyone who knocks will have the door opened" [also see Luke 11:9]. James has assured us that God wants to give to all generously [James 1:5], but we cannot receive these gifts if we pray without meekness or with doubts formed by a divided mind/heart [1:7-8].

Continuing with his call to conversion, submission, and unity in chapter 4, James contrasted the fleshly vices of pride and envy with those virtues of meekness and humility, which reflect submission and dependence upon God. In his call to conversion and submission to God which began in 4:1-6, James contrasts in 4:7-10 being open to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit which comes from "above" with "fleshly" wisdom offered by the world:

James' teaching is consistence with Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:24: "No one can be the slave of two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."[New American translation; mammon is an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property]. God and the values of the world are not compatible. We must choose one or the other for God must be served with a sincere and exclusive devotion.

St. James assures Jewish Christians that God draws near to those who seek Him, "The nearer you go to God, the nearer God will come to you" [James 4:8] and bestows His gifts upon those who are, through humility, open to receive them [James 4:10]. James' statement in this verse is consistent with the Old Testament promise of God's response to faith:

Question: Concerning our reconciliation with God, what does James' say is our obligation for establishing restored fellowship? How does what Paul wrote in Hebrews 10:19-22 influence our understanding of what James' identifies as our obligation in our relationship with God?
Answer: James indicates that the initiative for reconciliation is ours: "The nearer you go to God, the nearer God will come to you." Christ has intervened in making the way to reconciliation open for us as described in Hebrews 10:19-22: "We have then, brothers, complete confidence through the blood of Jesus in entering the sanctuary, by a new way which he has opened for us, a living opening through the curtain, that is to say, his flesh. And we have the high priest over all the sanctuary of God. So as we go in, let us be sincere in heart and filled with faith, washed with pure water." Being "washed" with the pure water of our baptism recalls James call to "clean your hands, you sinners" in James 4:8. To draw near to God we must be purified of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ who has given us the power to be healed and renewed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so that when we come to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Eucharist [and in all the Sacraments] He will draw near to us.

In James 4:7 the good Bishop's contrast between the things spiritual and those things worldly reach their climax in a plea to submit to God and to resist the devil! When we resist the devil and turn back to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God draws closer to us and in his faithful response to our humility, He "lifts us up" [James 4:10] into oneness with Him and to the promise of the future complete unity in the oneness of eternal life within the life of the Most Blessed Trinity. Having made this plea, James returns to the third prong of his approach to Christian living - being slow to anger. It is a subject he briefly touched on in 3:8-10 when he warned that the tongue is like a "pest that will not keep still, full of deadly poison. We use it to bless the Lord and Father; but we also use it to curse people who are made in God's image..." and again in 4:1-3 warning Christians to avoid anger that generates division ["wars and battles"]. The imagery of the creature with deadly poison in 3:8-10 recalls the serpent in Eden, Satan the "prince of lies" [Revelation 12:9] whose deadly poison is set on destroying lives and souls. When we respond in anger we fall into a deadly trap in which Satan's poison can spill off our tongues leading to battles of ambition that kills faith [James 4:1-2] within the covenant community.

In this third and final part of James' approach to living in Christian wisdom he addresses the necessity of being slow to anger by contrasting the use of improper, negative speech with the use of positive, loving speech in James 4:11-5:20.

Negative speech:

Positive speech:

Please read 4:11-5:6: A warning to behave with Christian charity

James 4:11: "Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who slanders a brother, or condemns one, is speaking against the Law and condemning the Law. But if you condemn the Law, you have ceased to be subject to it and become a judge over it."
Changing his tone from the previous section in which James addressed his audience as "adulteresses" [4:4], he begins this section by emphasizing the family relationship in the covenant commitment with the reminder of how brothers and sisters treat one another, giving Christians direction on how to express their identity within the Covenant community. In 1:20 James said that "God's saving justice is never served by human anger", and then James condemned the professed believer who uses his tongue in anger to curse "the people who are made in God's image" in 3:9, pointing out that in nature a spring does not yield both salt water and fresh just so the believer, if he/she is living in the image of Christ should not be able to have both blessings and curses flow out of the same mouth. This is not as God intended. He continues this theme in 4:11-12 - condemnation and slander both spring forth from human anger. This passage also contains another reference both to Leviticus chapter 19 and to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

The Leviticus passage forbids slandering a brother, who in the Old Covenant was defined as a member of the covenant community. However, Jesus raised the standard in the New Covenant, we are to treat every member of the human family as a "brother" and extend the same love and concern to all "brothers" and "sisters".

Although Jesus has called Christians to a standard of perfection in Matthew 5:48, "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect", He understood that this is not a perfection that we are likely to achieve in this life, nor did He anticipate that the Christian community as a whole will be perfect. The paradox of the Church is that she is the sinless Bride of Christ who is full of sinners. Jesus knows that within each individual faith community and within each Christian family there will at times be disharmony and disunity. In the Sermon on the Mount passage of Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus directs how Christians should behave in the community toward a fellow Christian who has fallen into sin and toward others who have fallen into sin. In cases of disharmony Jesus forbids two actions and encourages a third in how Christians act and react to other Christians and to "our neighbor"'who is now identified in the New Covenant as everyone with whom we come into contact in our walk of faith.

Question: In the Matthew 7:1-5 passage quoted above Jesus forbids two actions and encourages a third in how Christians should act and react to other Christians and to their neighbors outside the faith community when sin becomes an issue. What must the Christian do?
Answer:

  1. The Christian shall not judge the sinner [7:1]
  2. The Christian shall not be a hypocrite [7:5]
  3. The Christian shall be a brother/sister to fellow Christians [7:3, 4, &5], and to his neighbor.

Why does Jesus command us to "stop judging that you may not be judged"? Remember the rule in correctly interpreting a Biblical passage Scripture must be studied in light of other Scripture; interpretation must not conflict with or contradict other Bible passages nor can interpretation conflict with the doctrine of the Church passed down to us from Jesus through the Apostles and interpreted by their successors, the Magisterium.
Question: Perhaps it is best to begin by asking what doesn't Jesus mean in this passage concerning judgment? Does He intend that we should never judge? Are civil law courts contrary to Christian conscience?
Answer:

In this Corinthians passage Paul is addressing our responsibility to judge sins within the Covenant family.
Question: What does Jesus teach on this subject in Matthew 18:15-20? Please read that passage. What steps are we to follow when a "brother" or "sister" has fallen into error?
Answer: Jesus outlines 4 steps the Christian should follow:

  1. Go to the person within the community who is in error and tell him his fault.
  2. If the person listens, be reconciled with him, but if he does not listen take others along and speak to him a second time so that you have witnesses to the discussion.
  3. If the person refuses to listen, or mend his ways, take the problem to the Church, meaning first the priest or possibly the bishop.
  4. If he refused to listen even to the Church then the person is to be considered outside the fellowship of the community.

In the 4th and final case, the Church may impose the redemptive judgment of excommunication [CCC# 1463]. To separate a covenant believer from the Sacraments is a last measure to attempt to bring that person back into communion with God and fellowship with his covenant brothers and sisters.

In 1 Corinthians 5:1-3, St. Paul makes a similar demand for excommunication of an unrepentant sinful brother or sister and in his letter to the Church in Rome and in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica he warns the faithful concerning members of the community who have gone astray into false teaching or immoral behavior:

We are responsible for the conduct of those within the Church; those outside the Church are to be disciplined by God [1 Corinthians 5:13] and by the civil authority.

Question: What is the significance of Matthew 18:18? Compare this verse to Matthew 16:19b.
Answer: With the exception of the plural form of the pronoun "you", this passage is almost identical with Matthew 16:19b: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In the Matthew chapter 18 passage Jesus is giving the same authoritative power to bind and loose that he gave to Simon-Peter, the Vicar of His earthly Kingdom [see Isaiah 22:20-25], to the leadership of the New Covenant Church. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Greek word ekklesia, or the "called out ones" [kahal or qahal in Hebrew], which we translate into English as "Church," only occurs in the Gospels in these two passages in Matthew 16:18 and in 18:17. There are many examples in Jewish literature of this same binding and loosing or opening and closing imagery and in those cases the references are to the giving of authoritative teaching [Isaiah 22:22] and the imposition of the ban of exile from the community [excommunication] or the lifting of such a ban. Jesus will repeat the declaration of this power to "bind and loose" in John's Gospel in Resurrection Sunday to the Apostles assembled in the Upper Room in John 20:22-23.

Question: What then do James and Jesus mean when they tell us not to judge? Do we or do we not have a duty to judge between right and wrong and between good and evil?
Answer: If we do not judge between what is good and what is evil how can we strive to "... be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5:48, or to "from a good life give evidence of deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom" as James urges us in 3:11? After all, isn't the search for the holiness that must accompany the gift of our salvation the primary purpose in our lives? Perhaps the key word is "judge". We are to assess sin and then critically examine the consequences of sin, but we are not to judge the person committing the sin. That is a judgment reserved for God. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome and applied the teaching of Jesus in this passage in Romans 14:4: "Who are you to pass judgment on someone else's servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." The point is we can critically analyze and judge actions but we cannot judge hearts and motives only God can judge the intent of a human heart.

Question: But if we do judge the behavior of a person, whether for proper or improper motives, what warning does Jesus give us in Matthew 7:1-5?
Answer: If we judge a person we too will fall under judgment and be closely examined for the same sin in our own lives. If we take on the responsibility of judge then we cannot plead ignorance if we fall into the same sin; in fact, we will be judged more harshly. Jesus' command not to judge, therefore, is not a command to be ignorant or blind but a plea to be merciful because there for the grace of God we might also tread. Father Luis de Leon writes in his commentary on the life of Job, "God measures out according as we measure out and forgives as we forgive, and comes to our rescue with the same tenderness as he sees us having toward others." [quoted from the Navarre Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, page 80].

James 4:12: "There is only one lawgiver and he is the only judge and has the power to save or to destroy. Who are you to give a verdict on your neighbor?
James has already affirmed that judgment belongs to God alone in James 1:12; 2:4; and he will restate God's position as judge in James 5:7-8. God is the Lawgiver and He is the ultimate judge. Humans are not qualified to judge the condition of a man or woman's soul thereby "condemning" the sinner. Not only are we not qualified to judge the person because we are fallible humans but because we are fallen humans. It is our fallen nature and our concupiscence, our own tendency to sin, that disqualifies us. When we assume this role as judge we are usurping God's authority as the divine dispenser of justice and we are going against the golden rule of love [James 2:8; Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39]. We are, however, commanded to discern if sin is present, to judge the sin and to offer correction to a brother or sister as we would in any family relationship. The warning both James gives in this passage and Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1-5 is that Christians must not take on the role of judge nor are Christians to play the hypocrite, Jesus contrasts a sin in a brother as a speck of dust with the sin of a large wooden beam in the life of the one who is so quick to condemn. There is the saying that "it takes a thief to know a thief." In other words, the sinner involved in a certain sin is the first to suspect or recognize the same sin in another if he condemns the other sinner for a sin in which he is also engaged, he is a hypocrite. Jesus exposes human hypocrisy as the reason we should not assume to judge others a prerogative which James reminds us belongs to God. If it is easy to identify that same sin in another then we must be fully aware that we are also in sin. In living the "Law of Love" the Christian has the duty to brothers and sisters in the faith community in whom he might discern a "splinter", to help the sinner in his or her need as a loving brother or sister and not to assume the role of judge. In mercy and in humility we should help our brother or sister to remove the "speck" of sin from their lives and in gratitude look to our heavenly Father to forgive the log of sin in our lives.

Father Hartin in his commentary on James writes "Whenever anyone judges, or worse, slanders another, one is claiming a prerogative and role that is God's alone. Such claims and such actions are the height of all arrogance. Not only do they lead to 'lowering my neighbor and elevating me' (quoting Johnson), but they also lead to abrogating God's position in order to claim it for myself! Speaking evil has the double consequence of breaking the law of love and claiming God's role for oneself." St John Chrysostom advises concerning our fellow Christian who is in error: "Correct him but not as a foe, nor as an adversary exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicines." And St. Jose Maria Escriva wisely advises us "To criticize, to destroy, is not difficult; any unskilled laborer knows how to drive his pick into the noble and finely-hewed stone of a cathedral. To construct: that is what requires the skill of a master." [The Way, page 456].

James 4:13-15: "Well now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow, we are off to this or that town; we are going to spend a year there, trading, and make some money.' You never know what will happen tomorrow: you are no more than a mist that appears for a little while and then disappears. Instead of this, you should say, 'If it is the Lord's will we shall still be alive to do this or that.' But as it is how boastful and loud-mouthed you are! Boasting of this kind is always wrong. Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and does not do it commits a sin."

James has addressed sins of commission in being hypocritical and judgmental and now he addresses sins of omission when we know what is right and good and we neglect the action we must take to maintain the right and the good. In James 4:13-5:6 James will bring the charge of indifference to God's judgment against:

  1. rich merchants: "Today or tomorrow, we are off to this or that town; we are going to spend a year there, trading and make some money" [4:13] and
  2. rich landowners: "Can you hear the crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the laborers moving your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart's content. It was you who condemned the upright and killed them; they offered you no resistance." 5:4-6

In describing man's life on earth as "only a mist", James is expressing the Old Testament wisdom literature theme of human fragility:

James warns in verse 17, "Boasting of this kind is always wrong."
Question: Why is this kind of boasting always presented as a sin in Scripture? What advice does Proverbs 27:1 give about long range planning?
Answer: This kind of boasting shows self-sufficiency of spirit and lack of poverty of spirit [Matthew 5:3]. Boasting indicates managing and controlling one's own life rather than trusting God and submitting one's life to Him. Proverbs 27:1 warns that we should not boast about tomorrow since we do not even know what today will bring!

Question: Instead of boasting of what we will do, what does James say should be our attitude? What was St. Paul's answer to the Christians at Ephesus when they urged him to stay longer in Acts 18:21; and what is the response of Paul's disciples when his arrest and imprisonment is prophesized in Acts 21:13-14?
Answer: In 4:15 James writes that instead we should say: If it is the Lord's will..." St. Paul echoes James advice when he tells the Ephesian Christians he cannot stay with them longer, but he will return "if it is the will of God." The same sentiment is expressed in Acts 21:13-14 when Paul's Christian brethren respond "The Lord's will be done. In both these passages Paul and his Christian brothers are submitting themselves to God's plan and not presuming to make their own plans unless those plans conform with God's will for their lives.

Question: What was Jesus response to God's will for His life when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:39, 42, 44; Mark 6:33-34] that the "cup of suffering" be taken from Him? What was Jesus' advice to those who are caught up in their own plans for their lives in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:33-34 and in what familiar prayer do we continually pray for God's will in our lives and in the lives of all God's creation?
Answer: In 3 times Matthew 26:39, 42, & 44 and in Mark 14:26 Jesus submitted Himself to God when He prayed that God's will be done: "'My Father,' He said, 'if this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, your will be done!" and Jesus' advice to those who are concerned about their own plans for the future in Matthew 6:33-34 is: "Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given as well." In Latin this submission to God is expressed as Deo volente or by the initials D.V. meaning "God willing." We pray in this kind of submission in every Lord's Prayer in the petition: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

James 4:17: "Everyone who knows what is the right thing to do and does not do it commits a sin."
James warns if you know what to do and fail to do it you are committing a sin of omission. The Catholic Dictionary defines a sin of omission as: "Willful neglect or positive refusal to perform some good action that one's conscience urges one to do. Such omission is morally culpable, and its gravity depends on the importance of what should have been done, on the person's willfulness, and on the circumstances of the situation."
Question: Is such a sin more serious than the sin of one who is uninformed or unaware? What is Jesus teaching in the parable of Luke 12:35-48? Who is the servant who "knows what his Master wants"?
Answer: Yes, the sin is more serious for the one who knows what should be done but fails to do it. In Luke 12 Jesus emphasizes the necessity of being conscientious in discharging one's covenant obligations to God the Master. To know what to do and to fail to do it will result in a harsher judgment for the servant of God who knew the will of the Master than the punishment of the servant of God who did not know the extent of his obligations, "The one who did not know, but has acted in such a way that he deserves a beating, will be given fewer strokes." Notice that the second servant who did not have full knowledge of his obligations still faced judgment. The servants who should know the will of the Master are the servants of God who carry His authority the ministerial priesthood. The other servants are the laity, the servants who rely on the instructions of the ministerial priesthood but who also have a responsibility to fulfill the will of the Master. Members of the priesthood who do not inform the laity of their covenant obligations and commitments will receive a harsher judgment.

James 5:1-6: "Well now [literally = Come now], you rich! Lament, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is rotting; your clothes are all moth-eaten. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be a witness against you and eat into your body. It is like a fire which you have stored up for the final days. Can you hear crying out against you the wages of which you kept back from the laborers mowing your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart's content. It was you who condemned the upright and killed them; they offered you no resistance."

James opens this passage with a harsh term of address which conforms to the Biblical prophets' warning of "Woe to you...". For example see the prophet Isaiah's 7 condemnations of Israel in the "woes" of Isaiah 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22, and 10:1. Compare the Isaiah woes to Jesus' condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-32. James' condemnation of the rich in 5:1-6 is reminiscent of James' condemnation of sinners in 4:9: "Appreciate your wretchedness, and weep for it in misery. Your laughter must be turned to grief and your happiness to gloom." He will repeat this harsh phrase in 5:13.
Question: What is the very graphic description of the judgment that will all upon the selfish rich, those who abuse their authority, those who refuse mercy and forgiveness, and those who reject God in Revelation 6:15-17?
Answer: "Then all the kings of the earth, the governors and the commanders, the rich people and the men of influence, the whole population, slaves and citizens, hid in caverns and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us away from the One who sits on the throne and from the retribution of the Lamb. For the Great Day of his retribution has come, and who can face it?'"

James' curse of the selfish rich is also reminiscent of Jesus' warning in the Sermon on Mount [Matthew 6:19-20], "Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and woodworm destroy them and thieves can break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworm destroys them and thieves cannot break in and steal. For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too."

James gives a dire warning to the rich, the proud and the self-sufficient who give no thought for the hardships their selfishness brings to others. James used the same Greek word for "weep" in James 4:9, "Appreciate your wretchedness, and weep for it in misery", but in that passage the weeping was a sign of repentance while in this passage the "weeping" is a sign of the fear the rich should feel facing God's judgment.

James charged the wealthy merchants with being boastful in declaring their self-sufficiency and independence of God and in refusing to do what they know is right. Now he brings 4 charges against the rich landowners in 5:2-3, 4a, 5, and 6:

  1. "All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be a witness against you and eat into your body. It is like a fire which you have stored up for the final days." James 5:2-3
  2. "Can you hear the crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the laborers moving your fields? James 5:4a
  3. "On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart's content." James 5:5
  4. "It was you who condemned the upright and killed them; they offered you no resistance." Which should be literally translated: "You murdered the righteous (one); he did not resist you" or "You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance [New American translation]." James 5:6

The Venerable Bede writes that the sin of the rich and proud is that they put their trust in their own strength: "God punishes robbers, perjurers, gluttons and other sinners because they are in contempt of his commandments, but it is said that he resists the proud in a special way. This is because those who trust in their own strength, who neglect to submit themselves to God's power who really think that they can almost save themselves and therefore have no time to seek help from above these are all deserving of greater punishments. On the other hand, God gives grace to the humble because they recognize their need and ask him for help to overcome the plague of their sins, and for this reason they deserve to be healed."

In 5:3 James lashes out against the rich with a dire prediction in his first charge: "the same corrosion will be a witness against you and eat into your body. It is like a fire which you have stored up for the final days."
Question: James' says in 5:3c, "It is like a fire which you have stored up for the final days." In what age of salvation history are we living? See 2 Corinthians 6:2; Amos 2:6-7; 8:4-8; Matthew 6:19; Acts 2:14-21.
Answer: We are living in the Messianic Era of the New Covenant; it is the Final Age of man. In Hebrew this age is called the acharit-hayamim, "the end of days."

Question: Today the superior position of the rich assures them of their power and authority but when is it that the perils of the rich will be apparent? When will the wealth accumulated by the rich witness against them?
Answer: On Judgment Day before the throne of God when successor or failure will not be judged by material possessions and wealth but on the exercise of mercy, generosity, and love.

Question: What will happen on that day? What does Paul write about this fiery judgment in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15?
Answer: On that Day of Judgment our works without merit will be burned up purified in the flames of God's fiery love and only our good deeds will survive (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Some of us will then pass through to the Beautific Presence of the Trinity [heaven] but with little to show for our lives on earth by way of the silver and gold of our righteous deeds. Purgatory is not directly mentioned in this passage but this text is one of those on the basis of which the Church has formed the doctrine of Purgatory as a place of purification before entrance into the Beautific Presence of God [see CCC# 1030-32].

Question: What does the Old Testament inspired writer of Ecclesiasticus recommend as an investment for the rich? See Ecclesiasticus 29:8(11)-13 (16)?
Answer: It is more profitable for the rich to aid the poor and disadvantaged because it is God who will reward their investment. The truth is we cannot take our earthly wealth with us to the grave and beyond. At judgment it is our good deeds that will survive the fire of judgment.

In 5:4 James accuses the selfish rich in his second charge: "Can you hear crying out against you the wages of which you kept back from the laborers mowing your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth."

It is interesting that James should use this ancient title for Yahweh, "the Lord Sabaoth", literally "the Lord of Hosts", which refers to Yahweh as the divine commander of all the forces that exist at God's command throughout His creation, including the heavenly armies of angels who serve Him. For the Jews of the Diaspora to whom James' letter is addressed, this ancient title would recall Yahweh's role as the Divine Commander who was the leader of the armies of Israel out of Egypt, the Divine Commander who Joshua served in the conquest of the Promised Land and also David's protector in his battles against the forces of the Philistines. In Scripture this title is used in such passages as:

For multiple references to Yahweh as "Sabaoth" within the same passage see: Psalm 80:4, 7, 14, 19; 84: 1, 3, 8, 12; Isaiah 5:7, 9, 16, 24; 9:7, 13, 19; 10:16, 23, 24, 26, 33; 14:22, 23, 24, 27.; Haggai 1:2, 5, 7, 9, 14; 2:4, 6, 7, 8, 9 (twice), 11, 23 (twice); Zechariah 8:1, 2, 3, 4, 6 (twice), 7, 9 (twice), 11, 14 (twice), 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23; Malachi 1:4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14; 2:2, 4, 7, 8, 12, 16; 3:1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17. There are 290 references to God as "Yahweh Sabaoth" or "God Sabaoth" or "Yahweh God Sabaoth" in the Catholic canon.

In 5:4 James makes another connection to Leviticus chapter 19. According to Leviticus 19:13 a worker in the fields had to be paid at the end of the day, at sundown [the Jewish day ended at sundown and the next day began]. Whether or not a laborer received his pay probably determined if he would eat that day. To withhold his wage meant that he and his family would go hungry, while the rich man "went on eating to his heart's content." The command to treat laborers fairly is repeated in Deuteronomy 24:14-15 and also in Malachi 3:5 where the Malachi text uses Yahweh's title "Sabaoth": "I am coming to put you on trial and I shall be a ready witness against sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and against those who oppress the wage-earner, the widow and the orphan, and who rob the foreigner of his rights and do not respect me, says Yahweh Sabaoth." The cries of those who have been abused have reached the Lord of Hosts, Yahweh Sabaoth, just as innocent Abel's blood cried out to God from the ground in Genesis 4:10 and the cries of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt in Exodus 3:7. James' point is to remind the Jewish Christians of their history; if God did not ignore the cries of the suffering and abused in the case of righteous Abel and in the case of the children of Israel suffering in Egypt, what makes them think God will ignore the cries of the oppressed now? James is saying, "If He came against their oppressors in the past in judgment will He not come against you now? Also see CCC# 1867; 2409; 2434 which quotes James 5:4.

Those who God will come against are those to whom James makes his third accusation: "On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart's content" [James 5.5]. James imagery of luxury and slaughter is a comparison between self indulgence and destruction or judgment. Just as animals who are destined for slaughter are force fed to prepare them so the rich prepare themselves in indulgent living for their own slaughter/judgment their day or time of slaughter will be their "day or time of Judgment". James accusation recalls the condemnation of the wealthy found in the Old Testament prophets, like Amos in Amos 2:6-8 and in Jesus' parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31 in which the selfish rich man who ignored the plight of poor Lazarus is condemned to punishment and poor Lazarus receives his just reward.

James 5:6: " It was you who condemned the upright and killed them; they offered you no resistance." In this verse the New Jerusalem translation does not convey the meaning of the Greek text. The more literal translation is: "You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance [New American translation]."

This is James' fourth accusation against the rich landowners. Father Hartin points out that the Greek verb katadikazein, "to condemn", "reflects the legal context of a court where a judgment of condemnation is meted out" [see page 230, Sacra Pagina: James].

Question: Who is the epitome of the righteous man in James 5:6? What righteous man was unjustly condemned and yet offered no resistance? Read Romans 1:17; 2:13; 1 John 2:2; Matthew 27:11-14; also read Wisdom 2:12-20. To help you with your answer, compare Wisdom 2:12 with Matthew 23:13-36; Wisdom 2:13 with Matthew 11:27; Wisdom 2:16c with Matthew 5:2-11 and John 5:18; Wisdom 2:18 with Matthew 27:19 and 43; Wisdom 2:19 with Matthew 26:67-68; Wisdom 2:20 and Matthew 27:22-23.
Answer: Every righteous son or daughter of God who is faithful and obedient to the Law of God and has suffered for the sake of faith in Christ Jesus is numbered among the "righteous" but 1 John 2:2 identifies Jesus as "the Righteous One!" According to Matthew 27:11-14 Jesus offered no defense as prophesized in Isaiah 53:7. The Wisdom 2:12-20 passage foreshadows the Passion of the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah.

Wisdom 2:12-20 Matthew
2:12: Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law.. 23:13: Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut up the kingdom of Heaven in people's faces...
2:13, 16d: He claims to have knowledge of God and calls himself a child of the Lord.".. "and boasts of having God for his father. 11:27: Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father...
2:16c: he proclaims the final end of the upright as blessed.. 5:2-11: Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs...
2:18: For if the upright man is God's son, God will help him and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies. 27:19: ..his [Pilate's] wife sent him a message 'Have nothing to do with that upright man...' 27:43: He has put his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him. For he did say, 'I am God's son.'
2:19: Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, 26:67-8: They spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him, 'Prophesy to us, Christ! Who hit you then?'
2:20: Let us condemn him to a shameful death.. 27:22-23: They all said, 'Let him be crucified'; He [Pilate] asked, 'But what harm has he done?' But they shouted all the louder, 'Let him be crucified!'
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

In James 5:6, St. James may be referring to the Passion of the Christ who offered no resistance to his accusers and tormentors. Theophylact [c. 1050-1108AD], Byzantine Archbishop of Achrida, in what is today Bulgaria, in his Commentary on James writes: "It cannot be denied that this verse refers to Christ, especially since James adds that there was no resistance. Nevertheless it also includes others who suffered at the hands of the Jews, and he may even have been speaking prophetically about his own approaching death." James, the Just (Righteous), Bishop of Jerusalem, like his kinsman Jesus, was also a righteous man who was murdered by wicked men full of envy and to whom he offered no resistance. In this passage James may not only be speaking of Jesus' Passion but is perhaps speaking prophetically of his own! The death of James as recorded by Bishop Eusebius: "And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, 'We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him (James) down, in order that they may be afraid to believe in him.' And they cried out saying, 'Oh! Oh! The just man is also in error.' And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah; 'Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.' So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, 'Let us stone James the Just.' And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, 'I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'" Church History, Eusebius Book I, XXIII. 13-16

Appendix #1:

Today is the celebration of the Feast Day of All Saints. In addition to the Sunday obligation to worship on the Lord's Day [it is a mortal sin to purposely choose to miss worshipping on the Lord's Day; see CCC#2181], there are now 5 annual Holy Days of Obligation celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. IT IS A SERIOUS SIN TO PURPOSELY MISS THE CELEBRATION OF ANY ONE OF THESE FEASTS with a valid reason such as sickness or care of a small child, unless released from this obligation by one's priest or bishop (see precepts #s 1 & 4 in CCC #s 2042-43; also 2177; 2180; 2185; 2187-8; 2192-3 ). The conference of Bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See. Under these rules certain Holy Days observed in the United States have been moved to the next Sunday while others have been abolished. CCC# 2177: "The Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist is the heart of the Church's life. "Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church."

THE CURRENT RECOGNIZED ANNUAL HOLY DAYS OF OBLIGATION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
in the United States 2006
1. FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION December 8th: The conception without original sin of Mary the Mother of God.
2. FEAST OF THE CHRIST MASS December 25th: Celebration of the birth of the Savior.
3. FEAST OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD 40 days from Easter Sunday (in the US this feast may be celebrated on the next closest Sunday, according to the discretion of the local bishop)
4. FEAST OF THE ASSUMPATION OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD August 15th : The Virgin Mary assumed body and soul into heaven
5. FEAST OF ALL SAINTS November 1st: Celebrating our brothers and sisters who have already entered the beautific presence of the Most Holy Trinity.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

Question for group discussion:

Question: How does the Catechism of the Catholic Church identify sin and what is the difference between mortal and venial sins and sins of commission and omission? See CCC#1849-50; 1852-53; 1854-63; 1868-69; 2088; 1 John 5:16-17.

Catechism quotations in James 4:11-5:6 [*indicated Scripture passage is quoted in catechism citation]

5:1-6

2445

5:4

1867*; 2409*; 2434*

Resources used in this lesson:

  1. Church History, Bishop Eusebius.
  2. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Kenneth D. Whitehead
  3. Teachings of the Church Fathers, John R. Willis, S.J.
  4. The Anchor Bible: The Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson
  5. Sacra Pagina: James, Father Patrick Hartin
  6. Navarre Bible Commentary: Catholic Letters
  7. Strong's Concordance
  8. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, edited by Gerald Bray
  9. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  10. Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Venerable Bede
  11. Christianity and the Roman Empire, Ralph M. Novak
  12. Harper Encyclopedia of Bible Life, Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, Harper & Row Publishers, 1978

Copyright © Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.