Thursday 4 April

4bTherefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? 6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,
‘God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.’

If you worship in a church that follows the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, once every three years in the early fall, the assigned epistle reading is James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a. The three verses James 4:4-6 are missing; they are just gone, never to be heard in public worship.

Why would the framers of the lectionary be so squeamish about these verses of James? Perhaps it was the word “Adulterers.” Or were they upset by the implied conflict between the world and God? Or maybe there is discomfort with the idea of God opposing anyone.

Most likely, the framers of the RCL simply sought to avoid verse 5. It is a difficult verse. There is no known sacred text where the “scripture says,” whatever it is James says here. But even more challenging is that there are two original texts confronting translators with different versions of his verse. The problem can be seen by comparing just two translations:

The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy. (King James Version)

He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.  (New American Standard Bible)

Is it the human spirit that is filled with desire? Or is it the Spirit of God who is jealously longing?

The NRSV takes the second choice suggesting that God yearns for my spirit. God longs to enter into deep communion with me. God takes the initiative reaching out to me through what James calls “grace.” My role is to give up being “proud”, ie. believing the illusion of my self-sufficiency, and instead humbly receive the gift of God’s grace.

My life is filled with signs of “grace.” Everywhere I turn I hear God’s call. It sounds in the beauty of spring, the tragedy of sudden death, the cry of a newborn infant, the compassionate action of kindness. Life is strewn with signposts pointing to a deep dimension of truth and light that I miss when I choose to be a “friend of the world.”