Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
And I say, Had I but wings like a dove,
I would fly away and be at rest.
Far away I would flee;
I would lodge in the wilderness. (R./)
I would wait for him who saves me
from the violent storm and the tempest.
Engulf them, O Lord; divide their counsels.
In the city I see violence and strife,
day and night they prowl about upon its walls. (R./)
Cast your care upon the Lord,
and he will support you;
never will he permit the just person to be disturbed. (R./)
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
The Epistle of James has a very Jewish flavour. When its vocabulary is analysed it is full of Hebraisms, with many Old Testament references and allusions. Today’s section echoes the proverbial style of the Jewish wisdom tradition. It could be called the “New Testament book of Proverbs,” full of pithy maxims as a guide for living.
“Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”
James echoes the denunciatory preaching of the Prophets. We know how fiercely Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and others hit out at the immoral practices of their times and called on their people to purify their lives and practices, just as does St James. He calls the meeting place of the Christians their synagogue (2:2). All this suggests that James wrote at an early date, in a Jewish Christian community still in a friendly relationship with mainstream Judaism. He and his people saw themselves as the true line of Abraham. They were a special section, distinguished from their fellow Jews by their belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah. As traditional Jews, they continued to practice the dietary laws and the circumcision of their sons. And they would have expected a good, rousing call to ethical purity and the cleansing of their hearts, just as James offers them.
The Gospel guidance to welcome a child as one would welcome Jesus himself calls for some reflection. We can find him in surprising ways and among the simplest people. Just as children easily begin to join other children as playmates, so we should respect those who are least self-important. Childhood in this sense is not a matter of age only. Someone who is lonely may be waiting for the healing touch of kindness. To welcome Jesus as a child is to open our arms to those who need us.
Today’s text from St James reflects our need to learn from the humility of children. He talks about “conflicts and disputes,” murder and envy. For him, the high road to salvation is that “God resists the proud but shows favour to the lowly.” This quote from Proverbs shows how James draws from the Jewish wisdom of his time, to fill out the message of Jesus.