"Are any among you suffering?” Suffering manifests in many different ways: illness, depression, loss of work or home, strain in relationships, political and social oppression, the terrible despair that can gnaw away at the roots of living faith.
The world of advertising would lead us to believe that we can alleviate suffering with a new car or a trip or a new lipstick. We constantly receive the suggestion that if we suffer, we must have done something to cause it.
In today’s reading, James doesn’t seem to care about cause. He focuses on the fact of the suffering and tells us to pray. James does not write this advice in a smug or facile way. He lives in a church facing persecution; he has seen suffering of every stripe. Suffering is real, and prayer offers a means to speak that suffering to God. James’s remedy calls for community, anointing, and prayer. This type of communal prayer, praying with and for one another, is both powerful and effective.
In the midst of all this, James asks if any are cheerful. He moves from suffering to cheer in two short sentences. It’s as if he believes the two can coexist. In my experience as an Episcopal priest, I’ve known people who were suffering and cheerful. They weren’t full of false cheer. They had the deep and abiding sense of God’s presence in and through the pain. I’ve seen people whose aching loneliness was healed by regular, sustained kindness from friends and occasional wisdom from strangers.
James has confidence that the risen Christ brings life from death. His is a faith that has legs, arms, hands, feet. His is a faith that embodies “love one another.”
Healing Christ, may I be honest about my own suffering. Grant me the desire to pray for others and to be a friend to those who hurt. Amen.
The Jewish people have faced possible destruction numerous times. The story begins not with the Holocaust in Europe but far back in history during the time of Esther. The wicked Haman plots to wipe out God’s people, but God saves the people through Esther’s courage. The psalmist praises God for this kind of salvation from seemingly impossible circumstances. Although we may not face genocide, we have our own struggles. James encourages us to pray with faith, believing that God can and will answer. Our prayers are powerful, James assures us. Jesus teaches us the importance of letting nothing stand between God and us. Using vivid hyperbole, he admonishes us to put the pursuit of God above everything else and to support others in that same pursuit.
• Read Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22. What traditions extend your memory?
• Read Psalm 124. God created heaven and earth. How do you choose to be on God’s side, the side of creation?
• Read James 5:13-20. When has God’s abiding presence allowed you to experience some sense of cheer despite your suffering?
• Read Mark 9:38-50. Whoever is not against you is for you. How can you share God’s love with those outside your inner circle?
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