Newsletter Subscribe
Australian Catholics Subscribe

St James reminds the Church of its mission

Peter Fleming  |  31 May 2016

The mercy of God must lead us to mercy between people.

There is no greater human spokesman for this central message of Christianity than St James.

Ah, but who is St James?

One thing we know for certain: the most significant St James in the early history of the Church was the one who was a leader of the Jerusalem brethren after the ascension of Our Lord up until he himself was stoned – and clubbed – to death in around 69 AD for promoting the Christian revelation.

This St James was the same one to whom St Paul deferred when he was seeking ratification for his mission to the Gentiles. He told St Paul that he could continue to convert the non-Jewish population of the Mediterranean, only ‘remember the poor.’ (Galatians 2:9-10).

This St James was known in the ancient world as ‘James the Just’, where ‘Just’ can also mean ‘Righteous’.

He was clearly an imposing personality, known for wise judgment and authoritative pronouncements on matters of faith. In dealing with St Paul and in formulating the Apostolic Decree after the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), he showed that he had listened carefully and that he was able to balance the requirements of Jewish law amongst Jewish believers with the more liberal needs of the Gentile cultures.

‘Remember the poor.’ are significant words, because they link James the Just to the spirit of the remarkable Letter of St James; for there is no single letter in the New Testament more thoroughly focussed on the way justice, born of mercy, should be practised.

James insisted that rich people must behave justly to the poor: Christians must not practise favouritism towards the wealthy. Faith, in James eyes, demanded good works, by which he clearly meant fair and compassionate treatment of the weaker members of society; pure religion, he wrote, was to care for the underprivileged, such as widows and orphans.

In this, James reflected the cry of the Old Testament prophet Amos: social justice means being merciful to the poor. And, interestingly, we can see the influence of Amos in James’ reflections at the Jerusalem Council mentioned above, giving greater weight to the argument that the James who led the Jerusalem church also wrote the letter.

He wrote aphoristically, which means he made statements which he felt needed little argument for people to see that they were true; in this he was unlike St Paul, who argued his theological case at length. Paul was a scrapper; James was a pronouncer of wisdom. He resembled Jesus in this manner of teaching.

His letter has been neglected by some because he came into conflict with St Paul on the matter of circumcision and because Paul now represents the more widespread, non-Jewish character of the Christian church.

But James and Paul agreed on the most important thing: that all life-giving mercy has its origin in God, and is fulfilled on Earth in our just treatment of others.

Peter Fleming is the author of Would I Like Jesus? (Paulist Press 2015)

 

View the reflection questions and activities for 'St James reminds the Church of its mission' here 

 

Topic tags: feastdays, thecatholictradition, scriptureandjesus

Request permissions to reuse this article


Comments

Submitted feedback is moderated. Please read our comments policy. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Similar articles

Online exclusive: The iron nun

Clare Deignan | 18 Aug 2016

Sister Madonna Buder never runs a race alone. She has competed in more than 360 triathlons, 45 Ironman competitions and more marathons than she can remember. The sister from the USA says she just does her best and lets God carry her the rest of the way.


Under an orange sky

Beth Doherty | 01 Jun 2016

The 2016 Young Australians of the Year – Nick Marchesi and Lucas Patchett – first became passionate about social justice when they were students at St Joseph’s College in Brisbane. With the Orange Sky Laundry, they have found a way to make a real difference in the lives of homeless Australians.


Finding a new path

Robert Fedele | 01 Jun 2016

A unique education course offered by Australian Catholic University is helping disadvantaged people from across the country reclaim their lives.


Popping the bubble: Waking up to climate change

Clare Deignan | 01 Jun 2016


Last year Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for our common home) and placed protecting the planet and its people as a top priority of Catholic social teaching. Catholic Earthcare Australia, the ecological agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference founded in 2002, applauded the Pope’s work. To aid his efforts, Catholic Earthcare recently created a workshop to engage youth with Laudato Si’ and inspire them to take action. Tess Corkish is the Youth Engagement Officer at Catholic Earthcare and leads the Laudato Si’ youth workshops.


AC Classroom: Dreaming of a different future

Kate Mani | 01 Jun 2016

What do you do when a program you believe in is threatened with closure?


Newsletter Subscribe
ACBC social justice