The Golden Epistle Of St. James2
The Interpretive Key To The Book Of James
December 10, 2019
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
As Jesus was made known to the Emmaus disciples in the Second Holy Communion (Luke 24:35), and as only the Lion of Judah and Root of David could open the Scriptures (Rev. 5:5) – even so the Book of James can only be understood when interpreted through a eucharistic lens.
Firstly, don’t spend valuable time grinding your teeth over its author or style or audience or date. None of these things is known, and what is commonly held as orthodoxy in these isogogic matters constitutes nothing more than an echo chamber.
What is important is that the Book of James has been traditioned to the church. And the church in turn has received it. It is Scripture, Luther's disrespect for this Book notwithstanding.
So what is the Book of James? It is called an epistle but this tells us little more than its method of transmission. I suspect it started its life as an actual eucharistic address copied by a stenographer by pneumatic inspiration.
This “book” or better “homily” was spoken by the lips of man, but its source is the mind of God. That was recognized immediately, and so preserved, and so handed down.
Why eucharistic? Because all Scripture is, finally, eucharistic. If Scripture is about Christ then it is liturgical and sacramental also, for there is no other way to recognize Christ. (Luke 24:35).
What are the patent give aways? The term “brother” is not a collegial term in New Testament, but a sacramental one. Children who have passed through the same birth canal of mother church wet and glistening; and who nurse at the same breast of the Christian altar. This is easily learned from St. Paul’s usage which, with very few exceptions, he is addressing the eucharistic assembly whenever he uses the word brother (and beloved).
Ditto with “beloved” used 3 times in James and ceaselessy in St. Paul. The eucharist is the sacrament of love (John 13ff). It is marked by love given, love received, and love extended.
Scripture is famously under-interpreted. It is understood as an abstract almanac or anthology of religious information, doctrine, history, morality and so on to be studied, sliced and diced to death. A desultory collection of Jewish and Christian information and reportage.
But Scripture is the church’s book and makes no more sense apart from the church’s eucharistic assembly than tropical fish do if one were to remove them from their aquarium to get a closer look.
Scripture is the church’s book, and the church is the eucharistic assembly of the baptized. The SOMA of Christ. Not the body politic, but his mystical body and nothing less.
And so Scripture, Christ, eucharist and worship form a constellation that cannot be broken.
If you read St. James in that light, taking the high road at every turn, the liturgical, sacramental, ecclesiastical, doxological road, then the Lion of Judah unseals it before our eyes.
1:1 Servant / doulos should not be taken in any secular sense as a slave or house servant etc. in this religious writing, but should be heard in a relisious sense. As “minister” of God. One who has been Called by God to minister the things of God to the people of God.
1:2ff James’ opening topic is temptation. What better topic to open a sermon? Christians should not become discouraged when tempted to sin, for temptation is unavoidable. But they should rejoice because it makes them strong and mature in Christ. It exercises faith as we fight and struggle against it. And, moreover, they will obtain the pardon of all their sins, and strength to continue in Christian warfare from the eucharist that will here be given shortly.
It is the “good and perfect gift” that comes down from above from the Father of lights with whom there is no variance. What he has decreed, that his church will eat the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Angels, the Hidden Manna, remains.
1:5ff He instructs this Christian assembly to seek needed wisdom from God alone, and exhorts them to have faith, while casting aside all doubt.
1:9 Saint James admonishes a eucharistic attitude, namely that those who are lowly in this world are exalted at the altar, and those who are exalted are made low at this same eucharistic altar.
1:12ff The homilist encourages them to stand strong against temptation, to fight it, and not to believe for a moment that God is its author. But rather sinful desire is the author of sin.
I think this is likely commentary on the Lord’s Prayer which was by this time universally known among the primitive church. It was no doubt prayed at every Christian gathering. It may have even served a eucharistic prayer at this early date. That is my speculation at any rate.
From the beginning the words “lead us not into temptation” must have confused people. But with James’ clarification we learn definitively that “God tempts no one”.
1:19 Good and perfect gifts. What are they? Abstract, Protestant, non liturgical, ecclesiastical or sacarmental interpretation would make them unspecified general blessings. But such interpretation advances nothing. Gets us nowhere. Every Christian acknowledges those, but so do Muslims and Jews and others. But only Christians know the supremely Good and Perfect Gift that came down from above. The Light of the World whose Father is the Father of Lights. Let us wake up from our hypnotic states, and see what God wants us to see. Christ the Hidden Manna.
1:22ff gets more directly to the point. To be doers of the Word means to celebrate the eucharist. To feast on the Lord’s flesh and blood in Holy Communion. In keeping with this the bridling of the tongue, the same tongue we use to bless God, and eat the eucharistized bread and wine, is perfectly in order. This is good pastoral, eucharistic admonition.
1:27 Here the homilist speaks of the fruit of the eucharist. Love received demands love extended, and so James reminds them of these two good works. Often the church did just this: took Holy Communion to the sick, and gifts from the altar to the poor. We still do this though in far more indirect fashion. The second admonition: to keep oneself unspotted from the world is a huge command that demands our full time and attention and love for God and for one another.
One who comes to the altar cannot leave the altar unaffected.
5:9ff Going now right to Sunday’s text (Advent 3 Series A) we once again find the eucharistic address “brothers” and an admonition to anticipate the Lord’s coming. But not the parousia. At least not at first, but rather his incarnation into his virgin church under the forms of bread and wine. True, the eucharist is an installment of the parousia. But first things first. “Establish your hearts” which means repent and believe, for “the coming of the Lord is at hand.” It is now time to lift up your hearts, and to give eucharistia to the Lord our God.
Indispensible to approaching the Lord’s altar is to forgive your brothers, your fellow communicants of the wrongs they have perpeterated against you, even as Christ has forgiven you. (Eph. 4:32).
Much more could be said, but let us remember in Biblical interpetation to take the high road. For is you want to see Christ in the Scriptures, you must see the church, liturgy and sacraments. Then your eyes will be opened. (Luke 24:35)