Feast of St. James of Jerusalem (transferred)[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:145-168 (morning) // 122, 125 (evening)
The James we commemorate today seems to have devoted himself to one audacious idea: That people could be faithfully Jewish and faithfully Christian at the same time. This view did not survive for long, except in traces. Most of our texts from the early Christian period and beyond show us that anti-Semitism was woven into the fabric of Christian identity, to the shock of many of my students and to the shame of all of us Christians.
James himself appears only in traces as the leader of the Jerusalem church. Paul’s letters report that James was a witness of the resurrected Christ, yet we have lost any fuller descriptions of this encounter. Paul also presents James as his rigid opponent. It seems that Paul won many early Christian controversies, so we have lost James’s side of the Christian story.
Sadly, our readings today reinforced the anti-Semitic suppositions of many Christians throughout history. The passage from the prophet Jeremiah announces that the Lord will punish and wipe out all trace of a people as retributive justice for their misdeeds. The passage from Matthew’s gospel warns the twelve disciples to beware, for people “will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues.” This description of tension between followers of Jesus as Messiah and some synagogue leaders has been extended to a perception of hostility between Christianity and Judaism.
Although today is supposed to be a feast day, I can’t help but mourn for the vision of faith held by James of Jerusalem, as well as for the Christians who cherished Matthew’s gospel. These early Christians found fulfillment in observing the law in the flesh and from the heart, and salvation in delivering God’s justice to the poor. Like James, they longed to hold their faith together when others tried to tear them apart. We can rejoice, at least, that their vision has survived in some form as a witness for a world that needs it badly.
Lora Walsh blogs about the Daily Office readings at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.