Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Acts 15:12-22 All the multitude kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting what signs and wonders God had done among the nations through them. After they were silent, James answered, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has reported how God first visited the nations, to take out of them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets. As it is written, ‘After these things I will return. I will again build the tabernacle of David, which has fallen. I will again build its ruins. I will set it up, That the rest of men may seek after the Lord; All the Gentiles who are called by my name, Says the Lord, who does all these things. All his works are known to God from eternity.’ Therefore my judgment is that we don’t trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole assembly, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brothers.

James 1:1-12 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let that man not think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position; 1:10 and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower in the grass, he will pass away. For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his pursuits. Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him.

Matthew 13:54-58 Coming into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these mighty works? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all of his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all of these things?” They were offended by him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house.” He didn’t do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord. The term "brother" is used the Scriptures to speak of not only of those who have the same mother and father but also cousins. According to tradition in the West, James is Jesus' cousin. According to tradition in the East, James is Joseph's son from a previous marriage. For various reasons, the Eastern tradition seems more likely to me. From the Biblical account we find that prior to the ressurection, James was an unbeliever. James seemed to think that Jesus was out of his mind. But after the resurrection, James became a believer and great leader in the early church. He gave his life as a martyr because he would not deny Christ. They threw him off the top of the temple but he did not die. He prayed for his enemies and was clubbed to death. He died as a brother of Christ in a more important way than his natural family relationship. He died as a brother of Christ in the same way that we are brothers of Christ by being baptized into Christ.

James was instrumental in bringing the Gentiles into the church. He came to see that the law did not bring salvation but death. God was not satisfied with trying hard. God demands absolute obedience. Salvation could only be found in his brother--Jesus. Jesus did not come to fulfill the law for the Jews only but also for the Gentiles. Our salvation is not found in the law but in our brother Jesus.

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