Do you know anyone who has a complete blind spot about a particular issue? Well, I think Martin Luther, the great reformer, had a bit of a blind spot about the book of James. He famously referred to it as an ‘epistle of straw,’ in fact he would have preferred it if it had been excluded from the canon of scripture. Fortunately it wasn’t. The book of James is a wonderful pastoral epistle.
This week I would particularly invite you to reflect on what it might mean to ‘be doers of the word.’ Now Luther thought that the problem with James’ great exhortation was that it undermined his great theological scheme, at the centre of which was the notion that salvation can only be graced through faith. Luther thought that James was suggesting that salvation could be purchased through works. I think that Luther had a particular blind spot when it comes to James, and that what James in fact offers is a highly distinctive intentional theology modelled on the life of Christ. James, at no point, suggests that we are strong enough by ourselves, or though our own merits, to live the Christ-like life, for he says that we need to ‘welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.’
For James being able to be doers of the word, the sort of people, who are genuinely able to keep our faith ‘undefiled’ through the uncritical acceptance of worldly philosophies, whilst exercising compassion towards the most vulnerable, flows entirely from the quality of our inner lives and our willingness to welcome and foster the ‘implanted word,’ within us, and of course the way we do this is through prayer, imaginatively reading the bible and receipt of the sacraments; these three are the nutrients for our souls.
The good news is that when we take these three seriously, when prayer and reading the bible become our daily bread, we change and ripen, we become what James describes as the ‘first fruits;’ we become Holy and observable; we become the sort of people who wear our faith. We become ‘doers of the word.’
The problem with the ‘Pharisees and some of the Scribes’ is simply this: that they haven’t ‘welcomed with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save.’ Instead they have sought to redefine their faith in human terms. In the language of James they allowed themselves to become ‘stained by the world.’ Jesus is more forthright in his criticism: he refers to them as hypocrites.
My deepest desire is that this church will increase in holiness; that each and every one of us will let the ‘implanted word’ ripen still further within us. To this end we are going to be continuing with our teaching on prayer. In October we hope to offer more Thursday evening sessions on various types of, primarily contemplative, prayer, the aim of which is to help us ‘look into the perfect law.’ In February I am hoping that we might have a one day festival of prayer led by a wonderful priest-theologian from Liverpool. In the meantime can I invite you to take the pew sheet home with you, read and meditate on the readings and use our daily prayer card. Let us together commit to ‘welcoming with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save,’