Feast of Saint James, Apostle

Lectionary: 605

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

Christians will study Saint Paul until the end of time. Of all the people who appear in the New Testament he alone shows us the mind of a Christian, what he thinks, how he feels, and what he does with his experience.

Of Jesus some people will always ask, “Did Jesus know he was God?” But Jesus came to save us, not to tell us useless information we do not need to know. Who has known the mind of God? 
Paul, on the other hand, is an open book. Because he is one of the earliest and greatest of all Christian thinkers, we can find ourselves in his musings.

He wrote, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels….” First there is the matter of motivation. Apparently from the day he encountered the Lord on the road to Damascus until his dying breath, he never doubted his mission or who had sent him. He got sick and angry and disgusted at times, but he was not easily discouraged. If failure was an option, quitting was not.
His secret formula for avoiding discouragement was his own self-assessment. He was “an earthen vessel” driven by the Spirit to every point on the map to announce the Gospel. If he met frustration and discouragement at every turn, he didn’t second guess himself, saying “I’m a failure because nobody loves me.” If he was shipwrecked or jailed, the Holy Spirit had brought him there; why would he question that? 

Brutally treated by various enemies, Saint Paul knew the frailty of his own body. He was probably surprised to live as long as he did. And yet, so long as he had a body he could speak of the Lord. The Holy Spirit got him up each morning and laid him down the following night. He knew God's energy within the earthen vessel of himself and was amazed.
Occasionally I come across stories of people who live at the very edge of human endurance and thrive. A woman who has walked thousands of miles across Asia, Europe and the Americas remarked that food is overrated. If she has to go for days without eating she just keeps walking.

Closer to home, Francis of Assisi appeared near death to many people – Thomas of Celano said he looked like a corpse – and yet he could dance in the street when he spoke of God. Saint Clare of Assisi subsisted for years on little more than a small biscuit every other day. She ate that much only because her bishop and Saint Francis insisted that she eat that much.
Earthen vessels, they were filled with the light of God.

When we celebrate an apostle – as we do today on Saint James’ feast – we remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is animated by the Holy Spirit and not by our efforts. The Gospel carries us; we don’t carry it. 

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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.

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