Pay attention to the words people speak as you get ready to walk out the door,” our chaplain supervisors advised us during our training as student chaplains. And sure enough, they were right! No matter how long we sit with patients and no matter how many topics we talk about, they often share the crux of what they want to say just as we prepare to say goodbye. With a hand on the doorknob, a chaplain may suddenly hear the words, “I am a little scared,” or “My children haven’t come to see me.” At that point, the chaplain may sit down and enter a new and deeper conversation.
This passage from James both hints at the power of casually spoken words and saves its deeper message for the end. James touches on themes of speaking, listening, and acting as he recommends a way of life for Christian followers. In his plainspoken style that translates fluidly across the centuries between us, James includes coping strategies for spiritual tests and the rewards for faithful endurance.
Finally, at the end of the passage, James reveals what really matters. Before we go out the door of this scripture, James reminds us of the “why” of what we do as disciples. Our mission isn’t about justifying or saving ourselves. Rather, God seeks to work through us to serve all those who depend on us. James and other biblical authors use the phrase “orphans and widows in their distress” to refer to the most vulnerable of God’s beloved children who receive few resources and fewer rights. Come back and sit down, James reminds us. Don’t go out the door before you hear this deeper truth—our actions, inspired by God’s love, matter the most.
God of truth, remind us that love comes in quiet moments of relationships. Give us ears to hear and courage to turn and listen to what matters most. Amen.
The poetry of Song of Solomon is thick with romantic imagery, and most scholars agree that these lines mean what they say on the surface; they are written from the author to the beloved. Psalm 45 echoes the refrain of admiration and desire. Such desire is not wrong if it is awakened at the proper time, as the author of Song of Solomon says elsewhere. James argues that ethical living is done not in word but in deed. True religion is not putting on a show but displaying mercy and controlling the tongue. Jesus rebukes some of the religious leaders in Mark on this very account because they talk of obedience to God but do not live it out. What we say and what we do should match.
• Read Song of Solomon 2:8-13. The narrative poetry of Song of Solomon invites us into the Bible in a way that differs from other texts. How does God speak to you through this poetry?
• Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9. Intimate human love can reflect God’s love. How do your relationships honor the gift of love?
• James 1:17-27. How do you bring God’s love to those who need it?
• Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. Are you simply going through the motions of faith, or is your heart close to God?
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