For the past four Sundays now, our second reading has been taken from the letter of James.
The sacred author addresses the letter to “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.” (1:1) In Old Testament terminology, the term “twelve tribes” designates the people of Israel; the “dispersion” or “diaspora” refers to the non-Palestinian Jews who had settled throughout the Greco-Roman world (see John 7:35). Since in Christian thought the Church is the new Israel, the address probably designates the Jewish Christian churches located in Palestine, Syria, and elsewhere.
St. James reminds them that they are called to a higher moral standard than non-Christians because we have encountered a God of love, and therefore God enables us to be a gift of love for others.
If Christians are real lovers, they must walk the talk. St. James, writing to Jewish Christians, far from their home of Jerusalem, know that they live in a culture which did not accept their beliefs and way of life. Therefore, a believer could lapse from the faith because of the difficulty in living it out. No doubt that when tragedy befell them, they may have questioned if the God of love really loved to see his faithful suffer.
That is one of the major reasons for St. James to write his letter: to encourage Christian believers to follow Jesus even in the midst of their daily struggles, rather than to lose faith: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
In today’s passage, St. James wants to note how the differences between human and divine wisdom.
Human wisdom is the highest form of knowledge because it is the knowledge of what is true or right, coupled with just judgment, to know how to live a good life.
However, while wisdom is the accumulation of experience and knowledge, it can only go so far. Why? Because there are many questions that go beyond the human mind to understand. For example: what is the meaning of life? Is there a supreme being that guides creation or is the universe merely an accident? Can we find truth and justice? Why is there suffering? Is there life beyond this physical world?
For St. James, it seems that the ultimate meaning of these questions lies in the revelation of God’s wisdom. He writes: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting…” (1:5-6)
St. James notes that when we seek only human wisdom, it lacks in the deeper meaning of the actions of the world. Because of the power of sin, human beings look to their own interests and one’s self-preservation and, therefore, have a limited appreciation of God’s actions in the world. Human wisdom, St. James writes, is: Such wisdom (that) does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (3:15-16)
So how does divine wisdom differ? St. James tells us, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (3:16-18)
Since the sin of Adam and Eve, the whole purpose of God’s revelation to his people is to restore relationships, with God and with one another. This idea of doing the will of God is always pointing to restoring relationships. Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel that “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (12:50)
Now, what is the will of God? The will of God is not for destruction, but as Paul writes in his first letter to the Thesolonians: For this is the will of God, your sanctification. (4:3). It is God’s divine plan to make all things new through his love and action in the world. But it is not easy, as Jesus himself said at the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke’s gospel: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (22:42)
If Jesus knew the pain of doing the Father’s will, then how much more difficult is it for us sinful human beings? All the more reason do we need to heed the advice of St. James: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (1:5)
In order to trust in God’s love for us, even when we don’t comprehend or believe that it will work for the salvation of the world and ours, nonetheless we pray at every Mass in the Our Father, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
As one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, divine wisdom helps the believer trust in God’s great plan, even in the midst of the struggles and absurdities of life such as physical, emotional, or spiritual suffering. To receive this gift, one must pray for the wisdom to trust in the will of God.
Because of our human frailty, our trust in God’s will can be lost because of despair. By ourselves alone, we cannot do the will of God, for one needs the guidance of God and the support and wisdom of others to do it.
Have you asked God today for the wisdom to do His Will?