The Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time begins a number of weeks of reading the Letter of James – termed ‘an epistle of straw’ by Martin Luther (in other words he didn’t like it!).
You might like to (re-) read the Letter as a whole. It is short. And having that overview will surely enrich your hearing and praying with the extracts over the coming Sundays.
It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.
Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
The translation of the Scriptures used in our Lectionary is from the Jerusalem Bible. In this case, the translation of the first line of this passage introduces an idiomatic English structure which, particularly when read without the previous verse, may make the sentence less clear, and some readers to stumble.
It could however simply read: ‘All that is good, everything that is perfect, is given us from above…’
This is a staggering profession of faith, a confession of thanksgiving. One of the reasons Luther was less than keen on the Letter was because of its emphasis (elsewhere) on our good works. But here, right at the beginning, James sets out his stall. All that is good begins with God. All we can do, and should do, and must do, is by way of response to the God who is Good, and who shares with us his love and goodness in an infinite number of ways.
- Count the blessings of today.
- Give thanks to God for them.
- Think how you can best make use of them.
- Do your best.
Carving of St James and pilgrim martyrs, Musee Calvet, Avignon. (c) 2014, Allen Morris