By Chaplain Tom Maly
James — what is this—no more readings from Ephesians?
For the next 5 weeks, we hear from the book of James, a “minibook” (a mere 5 chapters) which is said to be of the “parenesis” genre!
Don’t you just love it — another fancy new word!
As best I understand it, parenesis refers to moral exhortation, practical advice, rather than with theory. It resembles the wisdom literature of the Old Testament e.g. Job, Sirach, or Proverbs.
There are seven wisdom books and they each have terrific practical instruction in them. If asked by someone where to focus when beginning to read the Bible, the wisdom books are one of the three suggestions I make.
For me, the operative phrase from James today is “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” It states in another way the “two foundations” story from the 7th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Briefly paraphrased, the gist of it is “if you hear My teaching and do not act on it, you are building your house on sand … those who hear my teaching and who act on it build the house on a solid foundation.”
Given the practical nature of this writing, James even tells his readers what pure and undefiled religion consists of i.e. “… to care for widows and orphans.”
In the Gospel, Jesus is confronted by pharisees and scribes who are accusing the disciples of NOT doing things i.e. not washing, purifying, or keeping traditions.
Jesus gets to the “heart” of the matter so to speak! He reminds his critics that it is the stance/condition of the heart which gives meaning to actions and rituals. The Gospel omits the more “earthy” verses of this reading! However, the message is clear: all of the sin and evil we are tempted to act out, come from our hearts. The list of those sins, which conclude this reading, are sobering.
So where do the two readings leave us? In the one case, James emphasizes the need for correct action. In the Gospel, Jesus seems to be more concerned with the condition of our hearts.
We are called to both, to act rightly and do so with the proper motive. I don’t know about you, but the “yuck” that tends to accumulate in my heart seems the thornier of the two issues. How about you?
As always, be blessed my friends.
[Thanks to Tom Maly for his guest contribution to Quiner’s Diner.]