Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 342


Adulterers!
Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God?
Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world
makes himself an enemy of God.
Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks without meaning when it says,
The spirit that he has made to dwell in us tends toward jealousy?
But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.



Saint James uses the strongest possible language to describe the Christian parties who engage in “wars and conflicts.” They are “adulterers.”

With that phrase he invokes the biblical tradition concerning pagans and idolaters. These unfortunate people who have never known God live in a world of shadows without certain knowledge of good or evil, truth or falsehood. Their songs and prayers, their hopes and desires are pinned to illusions. Consequently their morals and ideals are contaminated by falsehood. Our Jewish ancestors, well versed in the Law of Moses and sanctified by their religious observances, knew they were blessed by the Lord. He called them out of Egyptian slavery and into freedom.

But even worse than a pagan are those who knowingly turn away from God to take up again alien worship. So when James nails certain Christians for their divisiveness as adulterers it is more than a schoolyard insult; these partisans and factionalists have abandoned the worship of the one God and given themselves over to idolatry.

Then he “psychoanalyzes” why they are behaving like pagan adulterers. They covet; they envy; they are controlled by their passions. They are “lovers of the world,” and that is utterly incompatible with the love of God.

My favorite philosopher of the moment, John Macmurray, describes three different levels of relationship; that is, three ways of relating to reality. First is the mechanical. Some people think the universe is only a huge machine. 18th century deists supposed that God was like an artisan who created a watch, wound it up, set it on a table and walked away. If there is a God, they believed, he has nothing to do with this world. This world view supposes that the human being is also a machine made of chemicals. When people compare the brain to a computer they’re basically using that analogy. They treat people like machines, used for cannon fodder in war, or commodities to be bought and sold. 

Their world view is deterministic; if we could build a computer with enough data and the right programs we could predict everything that will happen in the future. Marxist communism and liberal capitalism, for example, believe their future visions are inevitable. These "free thinkers" do not believe in free will; everything is determined. 

Secondly, there are organisms, like plants and animals. These creatures respond to the cycles of nature (night and day, summer, fall, winter and spring, etc). They have needs and desires but little or no self-awareness; they are driven by instinct with limited ability to make actual choices. Perhaps you have watched as your cat buried her droppings in imaginary sand, or a squirrel buried an acorn on a stone floor. They cannot suppress those instinctive behaviors and, apparently see no need to.

Finally, there is the human being which has no instincts and may transcend these mechanical and organic kinds of existence. A human being may choose to ignore or “sublimate” (make sublime) these impulses. Especially by recognizing other human beings in their uniqueness, neither as machines nor animals, the individual escapes a divided existence and enters communion with others.

The “adulterers” of Saint James’ letter, despite their baptism, have fallen prey to their animal passions. They envy and covet; they mindlessly engage in wars and conflicts even among themselves. If they ask anything of God it is only to satisfy their appetites; it is not to glorify God by the mighty works he might perform among them.

Saint James urges them to “...submit to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” 

In the communion of the Church, freed of idolatry, we abide in God.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.