by Scott Sutton
When I read the letter of James I hear echoes of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”. Practical wisdom that strikes at the soul.
Jesus (in his sermon) and James (in his letter) expose us. We want to placate our own self-righteous pride by saying things like, “Well, sure I have anger issues…but at least I haven’t murdered anyone!”; “There’s nothing wrong with wanting a little appreciation for doing a good deed”; “It’s not like I had an affair”; “I’m better than average.” We say stuff like that to ourselves. But Jesus and James won’t have it.
And neither should we.
It’s no surprise that there are such similarities between the two messages. James spent plenty of time with Jesus and no doubt heard him say this kind of thing over and over again. When Jesus entrusted the gospel to his followers, each of them seemed to latch on to certain key messages from it. Maybe the things that resonated with each of them most deeply. Maybe the things each of them most struggled with most constantly.
Regardless, James seemed to latch onto this notion that even a little sin is still a sin. Half sins, inklings of sins…still sins. There’s a danger in rationalizing our sins to ourselves. There’s a danger in thinking that certain sins are “other people’s problems”. There’s a danger in weighing our sins on one end of a scale with other peoples’ sins piled on the other end and deciding that we’re doing comparatively well. The danger is that we convince ourselves that our sin isn’t sin at all.
I think that’s why James is so focused on ‘doing’. It gets us out of our heads. It forces us to put our money where our mouth is (so the saying goes). It highlights our shortcomings. If we truly believe something, if we truly care about it, if it truly matters, we should be more than willing to step out and do something about it. In this social media age, it’s so easy to think that because we associate ourselves with the right newsfeeds, we ‘Like’ the right things, we ‘Share’ the right content, and we feel a sufficient amount of outrage at the right issues that we are somehow accomplishing something of value.
I think James would call us out on this.
He would defy us to look inward as we act outward. Call out the oppressors around us, as we call out the oppressor within ourself. Preach peace to the world, as we preach peace to the slanderous quarreler who resides within ourself. Love God, but if that love isn’t directing your footsteps toward “the least of these”, then spend some time asking why and where your love is truly placed.
I hesitate to publish this blog. Because I’m no good at the things I’m saying here. But I want to be. I want all of us to be. Because this is the kind of stuff that changes the world.