Teach Me Thy Statutes:
Father James Early: We are continuing our studying of St. James’ Epistle, the second chapter, now. We just finished chapter one. We also just finished the first major section of the epistle, which is about trials and temptations, and last time we actually started the second major section, which is on being a doer of the word, in other words, putting the faith into practice. That started in verse 19 of chapter 1. So if you have not read that, you will want to go back and read chapter 1, verse 19-26. Actually, come to think of it, I guess you want to read the whole book at some point or another, right?
But let us start with chapter 2, verse 1, and we are going to go at least through verse 13. If we get time we will go a little bit longer, we will see how we do.
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings and fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes, and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there, or sit here at my footstool.’ Have you not shown partiality among yourselves and become judges, with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren, has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the law according to the scripture—you shall love your neighbor as yourself—you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble at one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, do not commit adultery, also said, do not murder. Now, if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Here is another way that we can be doers of the Word. That is the theme of this section we are in, being doers of the Word, doing the Word. We cannot show partiality to the rich, but treat all people with equal respect and dignity. I heard a really interesting podcast, and it was actually, also, originally a blog, by a friend of mine named Steve Robinson. He does a couple of podcasts on Ancient Faith and has a blog.
He talked about how you can tell a lot about somebody by how they treat a waiter in a restaurant. How do you treat the waiter? How do you treat the busboy or busgirl? How do you treat the maid, the person who cleans up your office where you work? Do you treat them the same as you would treat the CEO? Or the principal? Or the superintendent? Do we show the same dignity to those we really do not have to?
A lot of us are nice to our supervisors because we kind of have to be, don’t we? If you are not nice to your boss, you are going to end up with no job. You get fired. We have to be whether we feel like it or want to be or not, whether the boss is good to us, or a total jerk. But the person who comes in and cleans up your office at the end of the day, if you run into them, you do not have to be nice to them—what are they going to do to you? You could treat them like a dog, or you could treat them very nice. That tells a lot about the way we are. We should treat them all the same. We should treat the person at the drive-through at MacDonald’s the same as we treat anybody else—even if they totally screw up our order. What do you do? You know, you ordered no cheese, and you got double cheese instead. What do you do? Do you rip them? Do you take it out on them, or do you just say, “That’s okay, no big deal, I’ll just take another one.”
That is kind of a side note, but that is just something that popped into my head. See, if you just read the blog, you do not get that, because it is not in the notes, so that is why, the best thing to do is be here on Sunday, right? (laughter) You get to hear the live thing, but even if you cannot, the podcast is the second best thing—not everbody is in Houston. (laughter)
There is an interesting thing here before I continue onto the main theme. He uses the word assembly, in verse 2—If somebody comes into your assembly—that word in the Greek is—no, it is not ekklesia, good try—what do you think it is? What did we say about St. James’ epistle that sets it apart from all other epistles? It is the most Jewish. synagogue 5:59], which is, of course, where we get the English word, synagogue. It literally means to gather people, or people coming together, a gathering of people. Syn means together, and goge is people, as in demagogue, a leader of the people, literally.
Comment: What would it be in Jewish? I mean Synagogue is obviously a Greek term.
Fr. James: I do not know what it would be in Hebrew, maybe—qahal, is one word that means the gathering of the people. The Hebrew word in the Old Testament, qahal, is translated into the Septuagent as ekklesia, but he calls them synagogues, and again, that speaks to the Jewishness of the context here. Remember that most of James’ hearers were Jewish Christians. They were not people going out to start a new religion: “Hey, let’s call it Christianity, what the heck, that sounds like a good name.” That is not what they are doing. They are Jews who are believing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, that Jesus is the promised Messiah.
Comment: I don’t know what the date was, but there was a long period of time where they continued to go to the temple, too, didn’t they?
Fr. James: They did, yes. I think this may have been shortly after that, because we pick up fromthe context of the entire epistle, there is a lot of persecution going on. Here is an example: People dragging them into courts. Most of the early Christians were from the lower classes, right? They were not the rich people—that was later on in the history of the church when the wealthy people would join. There were a few wealthy people who joined early on, it is not like everybody was dirt poor. So this is a problem, that they are being oppressed by the rich people, the rulers of society. And I think, in particular, they were being oppressed by some of the Jewish leaders who were persecuting them as heretics. We read the stories of the early Jewish rulers and their interactions with the Christians in the book of Acts. St. Paul is an example. St. Paul was a hired gun. His job was to go around, knock on doors: “Are you a follower of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah?” “Well, yes.” “Alright, come with me please.”
So there was a lot of that persecution going on, and we read about the early disciples being scattered, except for the original 12, but most of the other followers of Christ were scattered around, especially after St. Stephen was stoned. I am kind of getting off track, but you get the context here.
So this word, sunagoge, going back to that, does not refer to an actual synagogue. It is not talking about a building, but it is talking about the gathering of people, a Christian assembly, and that would include prayers and scripture readings and hymns, and a celebration of the Eucharist. Early Christians, in their liturgy, continued the synagogue service, essentially, but added onto that, the Eucharist. I am way over-simplifying it, but that is basically the idea. A synagogue service consisted of prayers, and maybe some hymns, but also the reading of scripture was central to that, the reading of the scripture and the interpretation of that. And then the early Christians would add onto that the Eucharist, that Jesus instituted at the last supper.
Of course, you know, they did not have have church buildings, so they met in homes, primarily, and the reason for that was, they couldn’t. As you said, Shannon, they did meet in the temple, as long as they could, but eventually they were forbidden from meeting in the temple, as well. But the earliest Christian assemblies were synagogues, in other words, gatherings, assemblies of Jews who believed that Messiah had come in the person of Jesus.
So that is just a little side note, I do not want anybody to think that the readers of this epistle were meeting in churches like we meet in. I think everybody knows that—it was a very different situation back then.
In at least some of these synagogues, as St. James implies in versus 2 and 3, the rich and powerful were given preferential treatment. So we see this problem popping up very early in the church. Remember, we are in the late 40s, maybe 15 years or so—no more than 20 years— after Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. And already we see that rich people were being given preferential treatment and poor people are being mistreated—or at least disrespected—treated as less than other people. It must have been a fairly common problem, for St. James to have devoted so much space to discussing it.
Tom: I was just looking at this. I mean, it seems to me he is referring more to people in power, than rich people, because there were rich people who had also been cast out of the synagogue, who paid the price, and so I think he is talking about people in power, lording it over you.
Fr. James: I would think both, probably, because in those days, if you were to be in power, you had to have a lot of money. Again, some things never change, right? (laughter) It is a little less so today, but not so much. When you think how much every single time we have a new election, record-breaking money is spent on that. You are right, yes, it is powerful people—people who you have to be nice to, because you can get something back from them, right?
Tom: Also, remember, not just in Israel, but throughout the world at that time, you had patrons, and you had large families with a patriarch of the family, and he literally passed out the goodies for that family, and that may be to 300-400 people. If you read Roman politics, with Julius Ceasar and that bunch, what you see is a bunch of different noble families fighting among each other. You get the picture. And you still see it today, in clannishness in Afghanistan, or even among the Mafia here in the United States.
Fr. James: Even in the Orthodox church. You know, certain families control the pursestrings in a lot of parishes. But the fact of the matter is that this should not be so. Here is what Father Farley says: “Such partiality to the glorious ones of this world…” (not necessarily rich, although they certainly were that) …“is inconsistent with their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who is truly glorious, for when the Lord of glory came among us, He had no where to lay His head during His ministry, and He voluntarily washed the feet of His disciples. He there revealed that the true glory is that of the humble spirit, not that of outward ostentation. So when we give preference to the rich, the powerful, the famous or the beautiful, we are no better than corrupt judges who accept bribes, or favor the mighty ones of the world in their rulings.”
In other words, we know how sometimes, in the old days—again we are blessed to live in a society where this is not so much true—not saying it never happens, but back in the day of Jesus, the person who won the trial was the one who gave the judge the most money—the one who coughed up the biggest bribe was the one who would win the favorable verdict. Judges who give out biased verdicts, unfair verdicts, are constantly condemned throughout the Old Testament. Dishonest scales, corrupt judges, people who take bribes. You do not have to read the Old Testament for very long to come across something like that. But if we give preference to the rich and powerful and mighty, then we are doing the same thing, basically. We are not judges, but we are doing the same thing.
Then the Lord’s brother reminds us that God has chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him. This, of course, brings to mind Jesus’ statement: “Blessed are you poor, for yours in the Kingdom of God.” That is the Luken version, he actually says, blessed are the poor. Period. Now, we all know in the Matthew version, he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is not a contradiction, both of those are blessed, because there is a sense in which, if you are poor in material goods, then usually you will be poor in spirit, as well, because you do not have riches to depend upon. And, I think, what God wants us to cultivate in our own hearts, is a mind in which we are poor in spirit, where we do depend on God, whether we have a large bank account or not. It is not like we all have to become physically, literally, poor, in order to follow Christ, but we need to have that mindset of a poor person.
Tom: We have to assume that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both poor in spirit.
Fr. James: Yes, certainly Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were poor in spirit, very humble men. I mean, think about it, they were older, they were teachers, they were rabbis, they were probably pretty wealthy when you think of all the spices that they bought for Jesus’ body. You had to be wealthy, somewhat, to be on the Sanhedrin. And yet, they changed their minds, and they became followers of Christ, and they put their own necks at risk to follow Him. Yes, they were rich, and yet they were poor in spirit.
Anthony: John Chrysostom […] generous. I remember over and over he says, being poor or rich is not the issue, because you can be poor and lusting after money, and have just as many spiritual problems, whether you are rich or not. But at the same time he exhorts the rich to make sure that they are very generous, and as you are walking and you see the poor on the street, make sure you also help them out and give them […].
Fr. James: Yes, that is an excellent point. Let me repeat what you said, to be sure it gets heard, because they may not be able to hear. St. John Chrysostom said that the issue is not really how much money you have, but what you do with it. There are people who are rich, who are very poor in spirit, and very generous. The point is, if you have things, you need to share them with the poor. Yes, Chrysostom was very big about always talking about sharing with the poor, giving to the poor, and I think he said, did he not, at some point, this is why God gave you the riches. Not so you can keep them for yourself, but so you can share with the poor. So the poor are very much on the mind of God, and we forget that at times.
Think about another parable: Luke 21. There was the poor widow, who gave her two mites. You remember, these rich guys went into the temple, and they pulled out their big old box of money and they threw all this money in, coin after coin after coin, into the offering box. And then this one woman gave two little copper coins, and Jesus said she gave more than they did, because she gave all she had, and they just gave a tiny portion of theirs.
How about Lazarus and the rich man? That comes up every year in our liturgical cycle on Sunday—and other teachings of our Lord. We see throughout the scripture, in both the Old and the New Testaments, God has a special concern for the poor. God is on the side of the poor and the widow and the orphan, it says, all throughout the Old Testament, and we need to imitate that concern in our lives, not dishonoring the poor. Gary…
Gary: St. Theophan says that God hears the prayers of the poor, more than others. So maybe when we are thinking we are being so generous by helping the poor, and we are handing out these things to them, maybe we ought to be asking them for their prayers, instead of feeling so big about ourselves.
Fr. James: Right, we should ask the prayers of the poor when we give money to them. And I think that when we are generous, we get more of a blessing, even, than they do. I know every time I am able to share with someone, it blesses me, as well as the other person. So, yes, concern for the poor is something that we should have, and not neglect them, on behalf of the rich, hoping we can get something out of them.
Now, let us look at verse 6 and 7: St. James gives another reason why his readers should not favor the rich. The first reason was that God has that special concern for the poor that we have been discussing. But also, not only did these rich and powerful people oppress the early Christians and drag them into courts. That brings to mind the activities of a certain young man named Saul that we read about in Acts, chapter 8. He got his act together later, with a little help (laughter). So, these powerful and rich people—they are dragging people into court, they are persecuting, trying to make the poor Christians even more poor. But they also blaspheme the Holy name of God. Not just by their words, but by their behavior. Why should Christians show preference to the very people who persecute them?
Now, he kind of takes the discussion off in a little bit different direction, here. In verse 8 and 9, he reiterates the point, and then in verse 10 he makes a startling statement. He says, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. Wow, that is tough, isn’t it? No, you cannot cheat the system, you cannot say, “Well I kept nine of the ten commandments, you know, I got 90%, I am an A student (laughter). Nope, no grading on a curve. Now, there is no doubt that if you keep the whole law, and stumble in one point, you have sinned. We all know, if we break, say, commandment ten—not that the ten commandments are the whole thing, right? But that is just something we tend to look at. There is more, obviously, to keeping God’s law and living a life for God than keeping the ten commandments. But let us just use that as an example: If I break commandment ten, yes, obviously I know I have sinned, but am I guilty of all? I do not think I broke commandment three, right? I broke “ten.” Retest. I need a do-over. We all need a lot of do-overs. (laughter)
By the way, I should not even have brought up the ten commandments, because he is not talking about the mosaic law. That is a very important thing. St. James is not arguing that we are saved by the law of Moses, the ten commandments and the other laws that come after it.
So, let us think again about this idea of if we break one commandment. He is talking about the law of Christ, the perfect law of liberty, which we talked about last time. The law of Christ sets us free from the law of sin and death. St. Paul says that in Romans. Let us see what Father Farley says again. I am going to say that trying to figure this out is above my pay grade, so I am going to go the master here, and go a couple of levels up the chain of command here. This is what Father Farley says: “He is not proclaiming the necessity of sinlessness for salvation.” And I would add to that—good thing. Because we would all be toast. (laughter) “He is not speaking about involuntary sins of weakness. He is speaking about one’s attitude toward God. About a man who deliberately repudiates one of God’s commandments to defiantly choose his own way. In other words, if that man does not commit adultery, but commits murder, he becomes a transgressor of the law, a renegade from God. For he has deliberately turned away from what God has ordered. It is no use for that man to defend himself by pointing out to God that he has not commited adultery, or by showing how many of God’s laws he has not broken, for his transgression is personal. The sin is not in breaking some abstract principle, but in rejecting a person. For the same God who said, do not commit adultery, also said, do not murder. He has rejected God’s authority over his life in committing the murder.”
Does that make sense? In other words, the reason we are guilty for breaking the whole law when we break one point of it, is because when we reject one law, one of Christ’s teachings, let up say, then we reject the One who gave the law. Let me say that again: When we reject one law, we reject the One who gave the law. In other words, we are saying, “I know you are God and I am not,”—at least hopefully we have that part down—“I know you are God and I am not, but I want to hold onto this one thing. Yes, I will keep most of Your commandments, but I do not want to do this one and this one, or just this one.” When we do that, then we are saying, basically, “You are not God,” are we not? We are rebelling against God—that is rebellion. We are saying, “I do not have to do what You say. I can do the things You say, that I like, but the things that I do not like, I am not going to obey.”
Comment: Well, it is easy, I mean speaking for myself, not to murder, or to commit adultery. What is difficult is loving your neighbor as yourself, consistently, all the time, every day. A previous church I was in before I became Orthodox, almost had ratings of sin. Homosexuality is really, really bad. Gluttony is down here. Not loving your neighbor as yourself is not so bad—try to do it. I think what this passage means to me is, they are all on a level playing field, so you cannot take pride in the fact that you have not murdered someone or committed adultery, but if you daily struggle with loving your neighbor, it is still sin, it is still breaking the law. You cannot take comfort in the fact that you have not done the big one.
Fr. James: Yes, there are certainly some sins that have more serious effects, more serious than others, but as you said, the point is well made that we cannot say, “Well, I do not do any of the big ones. I just do the little ones, so I am okay.”
Comment: Does this also come down to the element of picking and choosing?
Father: Yes, that is like picking and choosing. And when we pick and choose, we are rejecting God’s authority, because God says, if I am to be God in your life, if I am to be your Lord, you do not get to pick and choose. This is the way it is. And these things are best for us. And we forget that, too, that Christ’s commandments are for our own good. Whether it be Old Testament, New Testament, does not matter. When God says, “Do not do this,” He is not saying that to say, “Oh man, I am just going to reduce their fun, I am not going to let them have fun. I am going to take away anything that would be fun.” He is taking away things that are harmful. A classic example: When you are a parent, and you tell your child, “Do not run out into the street.” “Well, you are limiting my freedom. I am going to do it if I want to.” “Okay, go ahead.” Not that we would say that, obviously. Or, “Do not put your hand on the stove. Do not climb up that ladder, that is not even secured.” That is for their own good. Gary…
Gary: And as a parent, sometimes I think that we take it personally. You know it is not like we feel terrible toward the child because they are such a bad person, that they are doing something they are not supposed to do. But we feel hurt that they are not following our instructions. So that is what we are doing to the Lord when we sin, we are hurting Him.
Fr. James: Yes, and I think that God does feel hurt when we reject his commandments.
Gary: Just thinking about that kind of changed my attitude toward sin a little bit, and I started getting that picture, that when I do these things, He is actually being hurt by them—visualizing the Lord.
Comment: Just like we are.
Fr. James: Yes, because we are created in His image, and He has given us that as an icon or an image of his own thinking on that. Christine…
Christine: I was just going to ask if this also applies to scripture. You know, accept the whole thing. Whatever pieces you are rejecting, are you also rejecting the One who…?
Fr. James: Yes, it is important to have a consistent approach to scripture. It is important not to pick and choose. And that is why I came into the Orthodox faith, because I felt all the other ones that I had been part of, did tend to do picking and choosing. I thought the Orthodox Church had the most consistent approach to trying to apply all the scriptures and not just pick a few out and make the others fit. Lee…
Lee: It goes to much more than just a personal thing, it goes to the cultural disintegration of our society. Society, basically, Americanism, is this thing that grew out of Protestantism, basically setting yourself up as an authority, as the spiritual authority, to pick and choose. If you go back and look at the origins of Protestantism, such as Lutheranism. By the way—this goes right to your book—Martin Luther wanted to throw out the book of James from the canon of the New Testament. And then this carries on into the United States, the birth of our society, our culture, which is completely disintegrating right now, because everyone sets themselves up to pick and choose everything, anything that they do not want to do, and even to the point of the laws do not make any difference any more. In fact, what you were taking about with corrupt judges, well, we have that in our own country right now. The system is, basically, whoever has the most money wins. So the corruption you are speaking of in the past, and the disintegration of that society, is already happening here. So, that little thing there about picking and choosing, goes to a much larger cultural problem that we have, and the disintegration of our society, and that is why I came into Orthodoxy, from formerly being protestant, and also looking at Catholicism, because they are setting themselves up as the authority, and to pick and to choose.
Comment: Do-it-yourself God kit.
Fr. James: Let us talk more about the laws and the commandments, because another important principle of Orthodox spirituality is—not that the written commandments are not important—but Christianity is not about following rules. “Check—I did not commit murder today. Check—I did not commit adultery, and so on. Here is my checklist of the 50 top sins—The Top 50—and I do not want to commit those.” It is more a focus on the heart, and that is what, really, I like about Orthodoxy is, instead of focusing on, “Well, gee did I follow the rules?” Which a lot of traditions tend to focus on. We are directed by the holy fathers to look at the inside, look at the heart, and you kind of touched on this, Sarah. Do I have a heart that is filled with love for other people? Do I have a heart that is filled with desire for God? Do I have a heart that is not lusting after other people, or lusting after physical objects, money, those kinds of things? The focus needs to be on the inside. “From the outflow of the heart comes the words we speak.” I think that is a quote from Proverbs. Proverbs 4, if I remember correctly. Jesus said— you remember we talked about this last time—“What you put into your mouth does not defile you, but what comes out of your mouth defiles you.” And not just your mouth, but your mind, too. So we have to focus on the heart, the interior part, and Jesus said, “Cleanse the inside of the dish, and if you cleanse the inside of the dish, then the outside will be naturally clean as well.”:
Comment: I think we have been talking about is the first commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength. And that is the hardest thing to do of all—concentrating on the inward spirituality.
Fr. James: Right. If we really love God, we will want to do what God does. I heard once, a quote, attributed to St. Augustine, and it was, “Love God, and do as you please.” Have you heard that one, or did I just make that one up? That would be reverse plagiarism, wouldn’t it? Instead of me stealing it, and somebody putting my name on it, take my words and put somebody’s name on it. (laughter) You can do that, you can just say, well St. So-and so said such-and-such, make it sound real pious. But if you truly love God, and you have that dynamic relationship with God, then what He wants is what you will want. You will want to do what He wants you to do. And then you can do as you please, and doing as you please will be doing the same thing that pleases God.
Comment: [...] is the most overlooked.
Fr. James: You are right, the most overlooked. Yes, because we tend to think about the murder, the adultery, the stealing and lying, and all that. I read one time that a young monk, a hermit, came to St. Basil the Great one time, and he said, “Give me a word, Father, that I might be saved.” And St. Basil said, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” He went away, and 10 years later, he came back, and he said, “I am still trying that, can you give me something else that might be able to help me?” And St. Basil said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (laughter). That pretty much does it, you know.
Comment #1: Also, it can change the motive, too. You would obey the law, before Jesus, for fear of condemnation and destruction, whereas, now you obey the law because you love the Lord. And you are not doing it in order to avoid pain and suffering, you are doing it because you love Him, and that love makes you want to serve Him as He wants you to serve Him.
Fr. James: That is a perfect transition to my next thing. Thank you, that is good, I am glad you did that.
Comment #2: That changes the whole dynamics of a marriage. When we were first married, my husband and I, we were doing certain things because we did not know how to do that. But then, I began to think, what does he need or want done? I might not want to do that or like to do it, but I started doing that, because it pleased him.
Fr. James: That is a good point. You try to please the other person, and not just carry out your so-called responsibilities.
Let us talk about judgment. James says, speak and do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. So, there is an aspect of keeping that judgment in mind. We need to live our lives as if we might be facing the dread judgment seat of Christ tomorrow. But that should not be our primary motivator. I would agree with you on that. We need to be merciful. If we are not merciful to other people, how can we expect mercy? Think about the man who owed all the talents of gold, and he went to his Lord, and he said, “Please forgive me this debt.” And he forgave, him—this was probably millions and millions of dollars in today’s money—and then he went and started choking this other fellow who owed him a couple of bucks, or something like that. Even if is was $200, it does not matter what it was in today’s money, the point is that we have to be willing to be merciful and forgiving to other people. If not, we have no reason to expect that God would do that for us. I mean, he may still, but…
It is interesting, though, he is speaking to people who are relatively new in the faith. The faith had not really been around all that long. I think about what St. Anthony says. St Anthony says, “I no longer fear God, but now I love Him.” When we first become believers in Christ, a lot of times we are doing it, mainly, to escape the fire of hell. I know when I was a kid, I was not even in any church at all, but I had friends that would bring me to these Baptist and Church of Christ revivals, and these preachers would get up there and preach from Revelation, and they would preach on the judgment: Christ will come in, and all this is going to happen, the end-times are coming, and you had better get your life right with God, and I was thinking, heck, yeah, I want to get my life right with God, I don’t want to go to hell. I think that is an early motivation, and I think that is something we should never totally forget. Fear is the beginning of wisdom, but as we grow in our faith in Christ, we grow more toward doing what we do out of love for God.
And I love the last statement, we are going to wrap it up with this. He says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Isn’t that great? Because I think most of think we deserve judgment, but if we stay in Christ, if we walk in the faith, then we will get mercy.
Let me wrap it up with another quote from Father Farley. This is very interesting, it is a linguistic thing: “James uses a vivid image. He pictures mercy and condemnatory judgment as two adversaries.” So, you have a boxing ring, right? And one guy is Mercy and he is battling with another guy who is Judgment. And so, Mercy and Judgment are in the ring slugging it out. “Which one is going to prove the stronger? If we follow Christ’s law of freedom and show mercy to the poor, and the other things that He has mentioned, then mercy will triumph on the last day. The verb rendered is “boast off.” Father Farley, instead of saying triumphs, he quotes it as, mercy “boasts off” against judgment. Now, that sounds kind of weird in English, but this is why: It is a Greek word that is too long, and I do not even think I can pronounce it, so I will not pronounce the word, but it is an intensive of the word, “to boast.” You know, in football, when one guy tackles another, sometimes he will get in his face, and he will taunt him, and he will stick his finger in his face, you know, “kick him when he is down,” so to speak. That is almost the image you are getting here. Mercy is kind of taunting on Judgment. It is used in Romans 11:18: It means to exult, or even to crow. So, it is kind of a strange image. Mercy is going to defeat Judgment, get in his face, and tell him about it. Not that that is something that we should ever do, but this is just a verbal image. “But mercy will only triumph on the day, if we refuse to show partiality and strive to love all men as Christ commanded.”
Let me say one other thing, too, if I may. Oftentimes, people who are in the Protestant tradition will accuse Orthodox or Roman Catholics of being works-oriented. They will say, “You believe in works salvation.” We are going to talk more about that next time, about faith and works. And one of the arguments they use is, “How do you know when you have done enough? You always are in this state of uncertainty, because it is as if, ‘Well, I do not know if I have done enough.’” My answer to that is, it is not a question of doing enough. Just do it. Just do what you can. There is not a checklist. You do not get to the point where you say, “I have done a thousand good deeds now, I have helped the poor 25 times, I have gone to church 100 times…” Just do all you can. So that would be my response to that if you ever get asked. Christ calls us to do all we can. We do not keep a count, we just do what we can. There is no minimalism. There is no scorecard. It is like soccer nowadays, they do not keep score when the kids play. We do not believe, in the Orthodox faith, “What is the minimum I have to do to be saved?” I used to get into arguments about that when I was in seminary. Do you have to be baptized? Do you really even have to have Jesus as your Lord? Do you have to this, do you have to do that? We would say, “Why not do all of it?”
Comment: It also goes back to a root problem with Protestantism back with Martin Luther. He was so fearful that he was going to go to hell because he did not do enough, and then he just said, we are just going to say it is just faith alone.
Fr. James: Yes, it is amazing how many religions, or traditions, or branches of the faith pop up out of peoples’ own emotional insecurities, their own issues. Yes, we need to make sure we do not do that. But, we need to be merciful, and especially, I think the main thing we take out of today’s lesson is to care for the poor, and we have plenty of opportunities to do that, especially in this holiday season.