A Reflection on The Letter of James 1:17, 27 N.A.B.
By: Larry T. Smith
In his book on the Letter of James, Catholic theologian Father Patrick J. Hartin
Of all the writings of the New Testament the Letter of James provides the closest link to Judaism and is an eternal reminder to Christians of their origins and roots within that heritage. This letter is a remarkable testimony to what Christians and Jews hold in common.
In the very next paragraph Father Hartin surprises some of us with:
The Letter of James also provides a bridge to the world of Islam. Everything in this letter resonates with Islam’s religious worldview and beliefs. Its focus on God as the one from whom all good comes and on whom all rely is central to Islam’s monotheistic vision.
The Letter of James Chapter 1, Verse 17 supports Father Hartin’s position:
all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.
- James 1:17 N.A.B.
Have we forgotten that all good things come from God; have we forgotten that they are not products of our own contrivances?
The Letter of James continues:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 1:27 N.A.B.
If we acknowledge that all good things are gifts from God, we must also admit that they are meant to be shared with the poor and vulnerable.
Last winter the leader of a Scripture study class stated that this is not only our personal responsibility, but all countries share the same responsibility. The ten most developed countries in the world are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States; they have a mandate from God to share their good gifts with less fortunate countries wherever possible—with no strings attached. When that was said, a very Catholic and spiritual woman immediately jumped up and angrily grunted through clenched teeth, “But it’s ours! We shouldn’t just give it away!”
While it may seem counter to our present culture, we must never forget that the kingdom of God on earth, inaugurated by Jesus Christ, is universal—there are no national or international boundaries—all peoples are God’s children.
The kingdom of God on earth, about which we speak, came through the death and resurrection of His Son, not through barbarous force or undisguised displays of wealth which established the kingdoms of the world. Many of us, in our own day, are witnesses to the power of the kingdom of the risen Jesus to overthrow proud and oppressive regimes and to give hope to the humble and poor, and to do so with remarkable restraint, dignity, justice, and peace.
The seventh of the Themes of Catholic Social Teaching is the Option for the Poor and Vulnerable:
“A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46, and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.”
We can and should rejoice that organizations such as Cross Catholic Outreach, Save the Children, Knights of Columbus, Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, and a myriad of other charitable organizations reach out to the poor and vulnerable whenever conditions permit. Even so, there are still plenty of otherwise good Christians in our midst who insist, But it’s ours! We shouldn’t just give it away!
Dare we imagine a world in which a developed country like the United States would go to the leaders of a country whose people are suffering from drought and starvation and say, It is our duty to share the good gifts that we have received from God with you. We offer you, from our surplus, this stockpile of grain because your people are our brothers. How many loyal allies would such a country have? In reality, could that ever happen? Probably not, but individually we must remember that all people in the world are God’s children. Because, if we do not carry around love for our brothers, we might as well be carrying around a corpse.