By Jane Williams
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A Reading from James 4:13-17; 5:7-11
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
The Epistle of James rarely mentions Jesus Christ — for instance, in 5:10, when it is exhorting patience in suffering, James offers the examples of the prophets and of Job, where 1 Peter focuses the Christian imagination on Christ in his suffering (cf. 1 Peter 2:21).
But our passages today show us the church leader, trying hard to form his community in hope, love, and trust. Even this soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christian disciples are clearly seeing their faith as something that fits around but does not fundamentally change their daily lives. They make their plans and build their security in exactly the same way as they did before the coming of Christ. James brings them face to face with the reality that the whole world has changed: God is not distant, but near; God’s judgment is fast approaching; there is not time to have a comfortable life first and then put our religious lives in order later.
We are seeing two different horizons that we live between: on the one hand, the end is fast approaching, and everything must be repurposed to prepare us for the Judge who is standing at the door (5:9). Yet, paradoxically, the way in which we prepare for this is through patience; as one horizon whirls us forward, the other keeps us steadily fixed on our daily lives. James is trying to help us see the connection between these two horizons: the latter prepares us for the former; day by day we are fitting — or unfitting — ourselves for the coming end.
Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morristown, N.J.
The Diocese of Irele – Eseodo (Church of Nigeria)