Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 79: Christian Wisdom

Here's a little secret:  Lutherans are not supposed to like the book of James, much.  It might be because the author seems to be arguing with the apostle Paul (someone Lutherans really love) regarding salvation by faith alone.  The author of James (and some people think he might have been James, the brother of Jesus) seems to be picking a fight with Paul, saying "Oh yeah?  Faith alone?  I say faith plus works!  Faith without works is DEAD!"

But the argument is overstated, I think.  If we think of faith the way Luther (and Paul) did, faith in Christ Jesus is what raises us from the dead.  And, people who are alive do things.  They act.  Because they are alive.  But the works do not save us.  They are just what we do because we are alive.

At least, that's what Paul would say.

Even though I'm Lutheran, and even though I'll grant that the book of James wouldn't be the one book of the Bible I'd take with me if I could only take one book, I still harbor a sort of fondness for it.  Maybe it's the picture James paints of the poor man and the rich man entering the church, and people fawning all over the rich man, and James saying, "Don't play favorites!"  Or maybe it's the image James paints of a poor beggar with his cup out, and people saying, "God bless you!" to the beggar, but not giving him a penny, or a sandwich or a coat to keep him warm.

Maybe it's the wise sayings about the power of the tongue (I've always liked those), or the advice about what to do if someone in your congregation is sick.

I think of James as Christian wisdom literature.  It's full of true sayings for how to live in Christian community.

Another scholar once told me that James is an example of the survival of the minority opinion in the church.  It's a small peek into what the piety of the Jewish Christian believers might have looked like.  We don't have much of their wisdom in the New Testament, but we have this letter.

So, what do you think of the letter of James?   Do you agree with Luther, that it is an "epistle of straw"? (which was not a compliment).  Or do you harbor a fondness?  If so, why?

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