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Church as the People of God

 

Lectio 2- James 1:5-11

by Fr Giuseppe Fabbrini

 

3. James 1:12-18

Introduction

The Church as the ‘People of God’
This ‘People’, whose members are also part of worldly peoples and live in the midst of the world, is often confronted with choices that are imposed on it and that do not come from God. These choices (let us just think about some laws passed by the different States) may be a ‘temptation’ for the People of God as a whole as well as for the single Christian man or woman. In fact, temptations are never induced by God, given that good and good only can come from Him.

Lectio

James 1:12-18
12 Blessed is anyone that perseveres when trials come. Such a person is of proven worth and will win the prize of life, the crown that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
13 Never, when you are being put to the test, say, ‘God is tempting me’; God cannot be tempted by evil, and He does not put anybody to the test.
14 Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire.
15 Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.
16 Make no mistake about this, my dear brothers:
17 all that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with Him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow caused by change.
18 By His own choice He gave birth to us by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all His creation.

Meditatio

12 Blessed is anyone that perseveres when trials come. Such a person is of proven worth and will win the prize of life, the crown that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
In other words: he who overcomes temptations, will receive the crown of life; the crown of perseverance is life eternal. It is a crown of victory promised by God to those who love Him. The Author is telling us: “Persevere! It is worth trying!”
Temptation comes to us in many different forms: sometimes as the longing for something which would be harmful to us; at other times as the repugnance or disgust at something which is morally good and necessary to our own sanctification. At other times as sloth, negligence, or superficiality with regard to our duties; or, on the contrary, as haste to do something that would require pondering. However, temptation is really multifarious and involves all the different sectors of moral life: the duties of one’s own state of life; prayer; fraternal charity; purity and self-control; justice; truth. To those who are willing to become holy, temptation often gives a sense of uneasiness, sorrow, surprise, and, at times, even discouragement. In fact, discouragement is the most subtle and dangerous of all forms of temptation, because it originates from and nourishes pride, even though unconsciously. The true Christian man or woman, mature in faith, should never be surprised at being tempted. On the contrary, temptations can help us grow in humbleness, as they let us see and become aware of what we really are.
The People of God lives in the world ‘in the midst of’ peoples, very often swimming against the tide of the lifestyle of those very peoples. Then we may feel the fascination of choices which are the opposite of God’s will: these are temptations. But if we manage to keep our gaze fixed on what God promises to those who love Him, the People will overcome temptations and will be ‘victorious’. The gain is perseverance itself and what God gives as a result of it.

13 Never, when you are being put to the test, say, ‘God is tempting me’; God cannot be tempted by evil, and He does not put anybody to the test.
If we think about Abraham’s and Job’s lives, we could conclude that God is the very cause of temptation. To support this thesis, a Christian could also say that one invocation of the Lord’s Prayer goes: “And lead us not into temptation…”
By experiencing that man’s bent towards evil seems to be connected with man’s very nature, we could also conclude that God who created us so is in fact responsible for our ethical conflicts.
To disprove those opinions, according to which God would be the cause of our temptations, St James remarks that God cannot be tempted by anything and that He does not put anybody to the test. And he qualifies those opinions as “blasphemies”.

14 Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person’s own wrong desire.
Temptations do not come from God but from our very own lust, which attracts, seduces, lures us. Lust is attractive and seductive and man easily surrenders to it. Even if it comes from man’s inner being, it is perceived as something distinct from his self; man is ‘confronted’ with it.

15 Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death.
The path of lust passes through sin and ultimately leads to death. Lust conceives and gives birth to sin; and when sin is actually made, it produces death. Lust is similar to a womb: its ‘foetus’ is sin, which grows within it as a child does; when the child is mature, when it has reached its full growth, it gives birth to death.

16-18 Make no mistake about this, my dear brothers: all that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with Him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow caused by change. By His own choice He gave birth to us by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all His creation.
To think that God is the source of temptations leads astray. A brother in faith should never be led astray. If God offers us every good gift and every perfect present, temptation, lust and death cannot come from Him. God is “the Father of light, where ‘light’ stands for all that is good, given that we can receive from God only good gifts. He cannot change: in Him there is no alteration, no shadow caused by change. In fact, we are willed, loved, generated by the Word of God which is truth; and we are destined to be the first-fruits of His creatures. Here there is probably a hint to baptism, which is a re-birth, a new creation, through the acceptance of the Word of Truth, ie the Gospel. According to St James, Christians are the beginning of a new creation. But the initiative of grace is God’s very own.

Conclusions

The Letter of St James provides a very clear answer to our questions about temptations: they never come from God, but from man’s lust. The People of God, Christians, and also each and every man or woman, receive all kinds of good from God. Thanks to Baptism, which derives from welcoming the Gospel, each and every member of the People of God can be a first-fruit of the new creation.

Oratio

Jesus said: “Pray not to be put to the test” (Lk 22:40). Even Jesus was tempted; and the saints too. As a matter of fact, temptation is inevitable.
The real issue then is not ‘whether we are tempted or not’, but ‘if we yield to temptation’. We must be watchful so that we do not yield to temptation, because that would be equal to sinning and we would lose the most precious good of all: the state of grace.
Unfortunately, the experience of our own extreme frailty and weakness warns us that yielding to temptation is easy, in fact, the most common thing that we may do. That is why Jesus invites us to take protective measures against that danger and to fight with all our power and any possible means.

In particular, Jesus commands us to keep watch and to pray so that we are not put to the test. This means that in some peculiar moments only prayer and vigilance can save us from falling. Unfortunately, many people and many Christians too, self-assured and proud, resting on their own strength and coherence, disregard this warning, in the same way as the twelve apostles did, falling asleep instead of praying. Thus, out of mere superficiality or presumptuousness, many people yield to temptation without putting up any kind of resistance.    

Contemplatio

When I am put to the test I do not have to think that this temptation comes from God.
When I am in sorrows, I am tempted to think that God might have deserted me or that He is putting me to the test: this is a kind of temptation that does not come from God.
All good comes from Him: the strength to fight when one is tempted and to overcome temptation is one of His gifts. I do not win thanks to my merits or my abilities, but in Christ.

One of the temptations of the People of God is ‘to be like any other people’. But its members should never forget that they are the first-fruits of creation, thanks to the new life that they have received at Baptism.
Then, I should always remember my Baptism, make a living memory of my Baptism, through which I became part of the People of God and co-responsible for it. I should also give witness to the new life of Baptism, acting in myself and in others.