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BIBLICAL PAGES

by Fr Giuseppe Fabbrini

LECTIO

on the Church as the People of God

 9. James 3:13-18


Introduction

The Church as the ‘People of God’
In the People of God, those who have been called to teach cannot and should not presume to be the depositaries of wisdom. Wisdom is a gift from above, that must be received in all humility and with gratitude.
Otherwise wisdom is mistaken for personal interests or views. This is bad for community life, as it easily produces misunderstandings, arguments, factions and divisions.
On the contrary wisdom, when it is put into practice and taught to others, produces unity and peace which, in their turn, reveal wisdom.

 

Lectio

James 3:13-18
13 Anyone who is wise or understanding among you should from a good life give evidence of deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom.
14 But if at heart you have the bitterness of jealousy, or selfish ambition, do not be boastful or hide the truth with lies;
15 this is not the wisdom that comes from above, but earthly, human and devilish.
16 Wherever there are jealousy and ambition, there are also disharmony and wickedness of every kind;
17 whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it is also peaceable, kindly and considerate; it is full of mercy and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.
18 The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice.


                                                                                                           

Meditatio

13 Anyone who is wise or understanding among you should from a good life give evidence of deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom.
The Author is addressing the community directly, as he sees that its unity and peace are put at risk by presumptuous teachers who believe they are very wise. It is a command: anyone who comes to the fore thinking he is wise and expert, must give evidence of that by his ‘good life’ and ‘deeds’. In the Author’s view, wisdom is the good example given to the community, when one’s teachings and life go hand in hand. The wise man is he who puts into practice what he teaches. It is too easy to boast of one’s own wisdom by one’s own tongue. The wisdom shown by deeds is gentle, meek. The good example of an upright behaviour is a sweet doctrine for our neighbours, while presumptuousness in teaching produces arguments and quarrels in the community.

14 But if at heart you have the bitterness of jealousy, or selfish ambition, do not be boastful or hide the truth with lies;
“But if” someone’s heart is filled with the bitterness of jealousy and contentiousness instead of wise gentleness, that will be the evidence that his teachings are not imbued with true wisdom and that there is no reason for him to boast about his supposed wisdom. In fact, those who behave like that are liars. Those who divide the community into factions, presuming to be wise, do not really love truth.

15 this is not the wisdom that comes from above, but earthly, human and devilish.
A fake wisdom that has the ambition to teach does not come from God. It is rather ‘earthly’, therefore it cannot come from above; it is ‘human’ as far as its perception is concerned, neither spiritual nor high; ‘devilish’, because it is fake, and falsehood is one of the devil’s features.

16 Wherever there are jealousy and ambition, there are also disharmony and wickedness of every kind;
The proof is that where there are jealousy and ambition, there are also disharmony and wickedness of every kind. Let us bear in mind that in St James’ times Scriptural scholarship and rhetoric were expanding, and that philosophy was also worming its way into the way of thinking and the ethos of the community. What was going on? Maybe someone was trying to produce a ‘first class’ Christianity.

17 whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it is also peaceable, kindly and considerate; it is full of mercy and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.
The features of wisdom from above, God’s true wisdom, are different from earthly wisdom’s. In fact, God’s wisdom is:
pure: ie genuine, frank, with no contaminations;
peaceable: it does not produce divisions and quarrels, but it creates genuine peace and common life;
kindly: it is not cowardly, but when confronted with difficult situations it speaks the truth, neither condemning without appeal nor violently acting, but rather being involved in those situations and trying to solve the problems;
considerate: of course it does not take vengeance;
full of mercy and good fruits: it does understand the pettiness of the human heart and acts mercifully with good deeds;
without partiality: it does not make differences between people, it does not choose the ‘best’, it addresses each and everyone with no distinctions;
without hypocrisy: it is not double, false, lying, hypocritical; those who are endowed with it, put it into practice and teach it likewise, and vice versa, in all truth.

18 The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice.
This “harvest of justice” is “wisdom from above”. This harvest is not gathered by dividing the community, but rather by its opposite, that is, by peace sown within the community by the peacemakers, ie by those who promote wisdom because they put it into practice.

 

Oratio

Wisdom 9:1-18
‘God of our ancestors, Lord of mercy,
who by Your word have made the universe,
and in Your wisdom have fitted human beings
to rule the creatures that You have made,
to govern the world in holiness and saving justice
and in honesty of soul to dispense fair judgement,
grant me Wisdom, consort of Your throne,
and do not reject me from the number of Your children.
For I am Your servant, son of Your serving maid,
a feeble man, with little time to live,
with small understanding of justice and the laws.
Indeed, were anyone perfect among the sons of men,
if he lacked the Wisdom that comes from You,
he would still count for nothing.
You have chosen me to be king over Your people,
to be judge of Your sons and daughters.
You have bidden me build a temple on Your holy mountain,
and an altar in the city where You have pitched Your tent,
a copy of the holy Tent which You prepared at the beginning.
With You is Wisdom, She who knows Your works,
She who was present when You made the world;
She understands what is pleasing in Your eyes
and what agrees with Your commandments.
Despatch Her from the holy heavens,
send Her forth from Your throne of glory
to help me and to toil with me
and teach me what is pleasing to You.
Since She knows and understands everything
She will guide me prudently in my actions
and will protect me with Her glory.
Then all I do will be acceptable,
I shall govern Your people justly
and be worthy of my father’s throne.
What human being indeed can know the intentions of God?
And who can comprehend the will of the Lord?
For the reasoning of mortals is inadequate,
our attitudes of mind unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares.
It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth,
laborious to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
And who could ever have known Your will,
had You not given Wisdom
and sent Your Holy Spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and people have been taught what pleases You,
and have been saved, by Wisdom.’

 

Contemplatio

 

A principle of pedagogy states: “To know. To know how to do things. To know how to be.”
To know: the acquired competences.
To know how to do things: to put one’s competences into practice through a method.
To know how to be: this is the true objective, to learn how to live.
As far as faith is concerned, the People of God re-writes the principle so:
To know how to be: everything starts from life, from the opportunity of this unique and unrepeatable gift.
To know and to know how to do things: to put skills and acquired competences into practice through a didactic method.
To know how to be with: this is a necessary addition, because he whose life is driven by the Gospel ‘competences’ and who puts them into practice, knows how to be a constructive member of the community, of the People of God.
This is wisdom, the wisdom coming from above, the wisdom given by God Himself, because it is one of His features.

 

The teachings of Jesus’ disciples, consecrated to Him, must be consistent with their lifestyle. Therefore, in order to teach wisdom, one has to live up to wisdom.
Otherwise, if wisdom is given for granted but not really present, people are moved by their own personal interests, which produce divisions within the community.
It is better to teach little, leading a wise life and in harmony with the Gospel, rather than to ‘pontificate’ and to boast about one’s own useless and incoherent cleverness. That would very harmful to the People of God!