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Speaking to the Soul: James of Jerusalem

Speaking to the Soul: James of Jerusalem

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)

Jeremiah 11:18-23

Matthew 10:16-22

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.


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Michael W. Murphy

Unfortunately, our history includes hyperbolic arguments which were written without thought of the consequences. When these consequences are looked at in light of Gen. 9:3-17, we truly know the “Sins of Scripture.”

Mirelle Rose

Thank you for your article. I just finished reading Galatians and the accompanying textbook commentary for my EfM class. More than any other Epistle I felt like Paul was being manipulative. I hate to use that word applied to Scripture but for me most of the letter feels that way. It is not surprising that, according to our textbook, Galatians was often used to minimize the importance of doing good works and misused to separate us from the original Law. I am not sure how Jesus would have reacted to this letter. You did not write about Galatians specifically, but what you wrote about applies to what Paul was promoting in his letter and the impact it had on the Church and its relationship with Jewish Christians. I am happy I read your thoughts because I felt bothered by Galatians and the textbook which is usually excellent, was inadequate in exploring the deeper implications of this letter and it’s contribution to Christian based antisemitism. James calls us to have faith and to put that faith into action and he does so in simple, un-convoluted terms. Perhaps Paul has been misunderstood being that we are so far away from when he was writing and that he would be appalled by the way some in the history of the Church interpreted his statements. We can never know his intent for sure but we can surely see its outcome especially historically and it is not always a history Christians can be proud of.

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