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Sunday Prep

The old law: loving your neighbor

James is writing to a church in crisis. And we know what that crisis was: the bigotry of class. Rich members of the church were treating poorer brothers and sisters in Christ badly. Rich Christians were shown preference in the assembly over those without high means. Poor Christians were without food and clothing, and their needs weren’t met by those in the church with them.

James quotes an interesting part of scripture: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Christians will instantly recognize these words as words from Jesus’ mouth. But, they were not first uttered in Jesus’ ministry. They are found first in the Bible in Leviticus chapter 19. Jesus was quoting Leviticus. James is quoting Jesus quoting Leviticus.

This little commandment then isn’t just the foundation of 2,000 years of Christianity, but its foundation stretches back far longer than that.

But, the importance here isn’t in its provenance, but rather its grounding in our lives, our communities. Loving our neighbor as ourself is so basic, but it’s also incredibly hard. Maybe not intrinsically hard, but “apparently hard.”

And so, so necessary.

Five Sundays in James: What you need to know

This Sunday, September 2nd, isn’t just Labor Day weekend, it’s also the first of five Sundays of reading the Epistle of James. Here’s what you need to know:

Who was James?

So, James was a pretty common name—in Hebrew it’s the same name as “Jacob.” Yes, like the great patriarch of Israel. With such an important name, people loved naming their children after this important figure. In the New Testament there are a bunch of James’. But, THIS James appears to be the one who’s frequently identified as “James, the brother of the Lord.” This may mean that he was so close to Jesus that he was like a brother to him, or, more probably, was Jesus’ blood brother. One thing we know for certain, this James was not one of the twelve disciples—so, for him to be so close to Jesus, he had to be pretty important.

James the Brother of the Lord was also the leader of the first Christian Community in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Oftentimes we think of Peter being this leader, but no, there are several places in the New Testament where James overrules Peter.

Who was James writing to?

Unlike most of Paul’s letters, where he’s writing to a specific and identified community somewhere in the ancient world, we have absolutely no idea who James is writing to. Though, if he is the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, then it figures that he might be writing to that community.

Why was James writing this letter?

Whatever community James is writing to, the community is in turmoil. There are major disputes and arguments going on, and the thrust of his letter is about finding a way through the nastiness.

What does it have to do with 2018?

Huh, can you even imagine people today being divided on issues that cause great consternation and anger?