Today we begin a five-week period in which portions of the Letter of Saint James in the New Testament will be read aloud at Sunday Masses. The author most likely is not one of the two James’ listed as Apostles in the synoptic gospels, but rather a relative of Jesus who after the death of the Lord became the leader of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem and himself was martyred in 62 A.D.
For the most part, the letter focuses on ethical conduct and responsible moral behavior in living the Christian life. It begins with an exhortation to persevere in faith and avoid temptation (1:2-16). The passage today warns readers, in particular, to conform their lives to Christian principles. Merely to listen to the gospel message without following its moral instruction amounts to self-delusion. Claiming to have faith without performing good works or helping the poor, James says, is like looking in a mirror and then forgetting your true appearance or, in other words, lying to yourself (1:23-24). “Do not be deceived,” James cautions his readers (1:16). We must be both “doers” and “hearers” of the Word.
Indeed, the genuine practice of stewardship arises from faith and is expressed in good works. It takes faith to comprehend that “every perfect gift is from above” and to be grateful for God’s “good giving” (1:17). But it also requires works of charity to become what James says we truly are: The “firstfruits” of our new birth in Christ through faith (1:18). According to Jewish custom, the firstfruits, or earliest produce of an abundant harvest, are offered to God in thanksgiving.
The truth about stewardship is that, when we actually live according to the law of love, we become the firstfruits of the plentiful harvest of faith in action that Jesus cultivated through his great sacrifice on the cross. And that is the greatest thank you note we can give to the Lord.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
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