The book of James is often attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, who was writing to an audience of Jewish Christians probably living outside Palestine and undergoing persecution. There are a few overarching themes of the book that scholars might argue do not always have a single message running through them. But James is concerned that Christians both put their faith into action and also realize that words have power to lead to life or to death. But from the onset, James wants to remind his audience that God’s actions toward us are the starting point. In James 1:17–18, the writer notes that God is the giver of all good things, the first of which is giving us life by the Word, which is Christ, but also by the words of God’s mouth, the gospel. We are made in the image of God; and because God gives, we can give. Because God speaks life with words, we can speak life with our words. We do because God has already done. God, who is unchanging, is the giver of all good things.

But to do as God does requires active faith and intentional actions. Our job is to refuse that which is not of God and to make ourselves hospitable and available to what is of God. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak, our words—like those of the psalmist from Psalm 45—are considered and considerate. When we are slow to anger—when we, as James instructs in verse 21, “accept the implanted word”—we are acknowledging that if we want to speak life, the condition of our hearts matters. And at the center of that condition of our hearts is God’s righteousness and grace. We acknowledge that to do as God does requires both divine grace and our intentional human choices.

Lord, make me quick to listen today, to you and to the people I encounter throughout the day. Sharpen my ears to hear your words, and grant me an obedient and humble heart to let your words do their work in me. Amen.

Pray the Scriptures Using Audio Lectio
Read Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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Lectionary Week
August 23 29, 2021
Scripture Overview

The poetry of Song of Solomon is thick with romantic imagery, and most scholars agree that these lines mean what they say on the surface; they are written from the author to the beloved. Psalm 45 echoes the refrain of admiration and desire. Such desire is not wrong if it is awakened at the proper time, as the author of Song of Solomon says elsewhere. James argues that ethical living is done not in word but in deed. True religion is not putting on a show but displaying mercy and controlling the tongue. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus rebukes some of the religious leaders on this very account because they talk of obedience to God but do not live it out. What we say and what we do should match.

Questions and Suggestions for Reflection

Read Song of Solomon 2:8-13. The narrative poetry of Song of Solomon invites us into scripture in a different way than other texts. How does God speak to you through this poetry?
Read Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9. How do your relationships honor the gift of love?
Read James 1:17-27. When do you find yourself as merely a “hearer” of the word and not a “doer”? What motivates you to act on God’s word?
Read Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. What human traditions or rituals do you tend to make too important?

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