Friday, January 8, 2010

Humble Yourselves in the Sight of the Lord (James 4:7-12)

St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

7 Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

Submitting to another person is both a way of showing humility and also a way to learn humility, and this is why the authors of the Bible often speak of the importance of submission (passages such as Eph. 5:22 and Rom. 13:1 come to mind right away). And who better to submit to but God himself?

The importance of the second half of verse seven cannot be overemphasized. If we merely resist the devil, the demons, and the temptations that they send, they will flee. After being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus told the Devil, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” and he did. The reason that we fall victim to temptation is precisely because we DO NOT resist! All the great ascetical Fathers of the Church teach is that we too can send away temptation by resisting them. With the sign of the Cross, a prayer for help (particularly the Jesus Prayer), and ignoring the temptation any further, we can fight them off. That doesn’t mean the tempter will not ever return, but when he does, we must continue to resist. We must not grow weary and give in.

When we drive away temptations, however, we must not be like the man in Jesus’ parable who drove out a demon from his house, swept it clean, and then was surprised to find seven demons re-occupy it. We cannot merely say “no” to temptation and drive it away; we must also draw near to God (verse 8) and fill ourselves with his sacraments and his teaching. If we do so, St. James promises us, he will also draw near to us, to protect and comfort us. We need to also cleanse and purify our hearts by repentance and confession. We must not be like those to whom St. James is writing in this passage, who are double-minded (dipsychos, literally “double-souled”).

An important part of repentance is what St. James commands in verse 9, namely, lamenting, mourning, and weeping. Note that St. James is not commanding the original readers (or, by extension, us) to do this ALL the time, for as we read in Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (3:4). But when we, like St. James’ original audience, have strayed from God and need to purify our hearts, that is the time to weep and mourn, to be sorry for our sin and to turn away from it. As St. James has mentioned before, and now repeats in verse 10, another key part of repentance is humbling ourselves before God. When we do this, God will lift us up and restore us.

St. James concludes his discussion on community strife and its antidote (namely, meekness) by urging his readers to not speak evil of, and therefore judge, others. Previously, they had cursed and reviled their fellow men during their feuding and quarrelling. But the time had come for this to stop.

I’ll let FF have the final words on this passage: “The Law commands us to love our neighbor (Lev. 19:18), and to condemn our brother is to condemn the Law, since we are thereby defying its commandment. Anyone who would presume to judge and condemn the Law is manifestly not a doer of the Law (as all Jews strove to be). Instead, this one is a judge. And that is to usurp God’s role, for He alone is the one Lawgiver and Judge—the only One who is able to save and to destroy. Do they imagine that the power of life and death is with them? Then let God be Judge alone, and let them refrain from judging their brothers. For who are they to think they can usurp God’s role?” (47).

Let us also refrain from judging our brothers and sisters.

1 comment:

charlene said...

Father James,
I think this is a wonderfully comforting section of the bible for several reasons. First, it tells us that if we tell the devil to go away, he will. As children of God, we aren't held down by a demon standing on our chest and poking us with a pitchfork unless WE allow him to do this. Because God is on our side, God has given us the power to send the devil away.

Second, I like this passage because it reminds me that all I need to do is draw near to God, and He will draw near to me. When I reach out my hand, I can always find God's hand already there and waiting. We need only come to Him as a small child comes to a parent and, like a child's small hand, our parent's large and powerful hand will make us feel safe.

Third, the admonishion not to judge is very freeing. I have to worry about my own actions, not my neighbor's actions. My job is to love my neighbor, not to decide if his actions are wrong or right. Only God knows my neighbor's heart. We have a young man that has been part of our family for 19 years, since I brought him home from graduate school when he was 20-something, and I was 40-something. He happens to be a wonderful human being, and by the way, he is gay. Having become Orthodox, I am aware of the church teachings on homosexuality. This passage is encouraging because it frees me to continue to do what I have always done: to love him, to encourage his love for God, and to pray for him.
Thank you Father James for this great series.