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James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a - The wisdom from heaven

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

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Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.


Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.


Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.


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This is the Epistle reading selection for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 20], Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will follow a pair of Old Testament selections, with an accompanying song, based on a church’s path during Year B, either Track 1 or Track 2. If Track 1 is the path, then a reading from Proverbs 31 will be read aloud, which says, “The heart of [a capable wife’s] husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” That will be paired with either Psalm 1 or Wisdom 1 -2. Psalm 1 sings, “Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.” The Wisdom says, “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.” If Track 2 is the path, then the Old Testament reading will come from Jeremiah, who said, “And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!" All will accompany the Gospel reading from Mark, where Jesus said, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”


I wrote about this reading and published my views the last time it came up in the lectionary cycle, in 2018. That commentary can be read by clicking on this link. I welcome everyone to read my observations from three years ago, as they are still valid today. However, at this time I will take a different approach and discern James more in a perspective of the other readings that this is read with. Feel free to compare the two articles and offer comments and suggestion, ask questions or point out where corrections need to be made.


In the first question posed here by James – “Who is wise and understanding among you?” – it becomes important to realize that Proverbs 31:10-31 is headed [NRSV] “Ode to A Capable Wife.” That “wife” is his metaphor for the goddess “wisdom,” whom Solomon saw are his divine wife, as if he were a god. That means all the wonders of a human female-woman-wife is not what ‘Mr. Loverboy’ ever looked for. Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, meaning [one can deduce] he never met a human being that could be a wife capable enough for ole Solly to be committed to for long. Thus, every 'woman' he wrote poetry or wisdom about was his inner self, which was his lust for being the smartest guy around. So, Solomon would have raised his hand, if he heard James ask this question.


The reason we need to disregard everything Solomon wrote, in particular everything he wrote to make his brain appear to be the biggest the world had ever known, is Solomon would have egotistically read what James wrote incorrectly, just like every average Joe does. In the Greek text of James, it literally translates into English as asking, “Who wise kai understanding in yourself ?” In that, the word “Tis” is capitalized, which means the word must be elevated to a divine level of meaning, higher than the simple definitions: “who?, which?, what?, why?”


This means the question can be shortened to asking, “Who in your soul?” That means “Who, What, Which” is all a statement of Yahweh’s presence “in yourself,” which means one with one’s soul. Therefore, seeing that means realizing James is asking a rhetorical question to other Saints of Christianity, because Yahweh is their true source of “wisdom and most important [from “kai”] “skillful, experienced, knowing” [the true definitions of “epistémón”]. Solomon saw his personal intelligence as a goddess that belonged solely to him; but James saw the knowledge of the movement that was Christianity as all souls married to Yahweh sharing all the knowledge they needed.


James then followed his question with: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” This can literally translate into English as saying, “let him show out of this good conduct these works of same self.” In that, a “self” equals a “soul,” and “same” refers to the marriage of a soul to Yahweh, so the “soul” then acts the “same” as He would have done. When “wisdom” is then that “born” from this divine marriage, the feminine “wife” is then all souls who receive the Spirit of Yahweh. This is then the truth of “a capable wife,” as it is not something determined by Solomon – a human in control of his soul – but by Yahweh. Thus, everything Solomon said about some imaginary “woman, female, wife” [“ishshah”] must be applied to all souls [those of both men and women] who welcome Yahweh into them; and, therein lies the truth of His wisdom, not the smarts of a big brain.


In verse fourteen, James addressed the lady friend of Solomon and his lust for intelligence, by writing [NRSV], “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” This is what I have been led to see of Solomon. It was not Yahweh who offered him a gift for burning incense and making blood sacrifices in holy places, because the impish young king was not approved to enter such places and do such things, not being a priest [which being king does not make]. When Yahweh asked Solomon what punishment he deserved, Solomon requested, “Fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, please; and, more than anyone ever before.” At that point Yahweh told Satan, “He’s all yours.” That made Solomon demonically possessed, probably with him not given the wisdom to realize that.


In verse sixteen, James wrote the Greek word “anōthen,” which means: “from above, from heaven,” and the NRSV translates the verse as: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” The implication from that says “wisdom” can come “from below” or “not from heaven,” which must be realized as worldly knowledge. Worldly knowledge is taught in public school and ‘pay-to-play’ colleges and universities. This includes [and this must be seen as the whole point of James’ views, as he was not a ‘secular’ kind of guy] the schools of wisdom that produce priestly-dressed fellows, those who would advise kings in religious matters. Think of James being there to say this verse [had he been there] when Jesus marveled at how Nicodemus taught religious wisdom, while not understanding spiritual matters. Just because someone wears robes on Sunday does not mean they have “wisdom from above.”


Verse seventeen, which is the last verse in chapter three, sums up who has wisdom from heaven,” when he pointed out “fruit.” James specifically said this "fruit" came from a tree or vine that produced “righteousness,” not dogma. When James repeated the word “eiréné” twice, meaning “peace,” he was not speaking like an old hippie from the sixties [which is how many Episcopal priests present the word, as a catchphrase]. The word “peace” should be read as the seeds of righteousness that must be sown, not promoted beforehand, as the acts of an Apostle who truly “walks in peace.” One sows peace without pointing out: "Hey are you watching me? I’m walking in peace. You should try it.”


At this point, the reading jumps into chapter four, going through the first three verses, before skipping on to verse seven, and the first part of verse eight. The BibleHub Interlinear heading for chapter four is “Warning against Pride.” The NRSV header says, “Friendship with the World.” Obviously, the “wisdom” talk is no longer the theme; but, that can still carry over, since Solomon certainly took pride in his main ‘squeeze,’ wifey Wisdom. He was friendly throwing her name about as often as he could find a pen and paper.


The focus of chapter four initially is on arguing and bickering, which has to be James pointing this out in rabbinical circles, especially those who wanted to debate the theology of Jesus being the long awaited “Mashiach.” Everything the ruling elite of Jerusalem did was break every law in the Holy Book of Moses, when they put their big brains together and determined killing Jesus was the way to go. Some, obviously, could argue that they had to break the laws, if Jesus was the one, even if they could not defend doing what they did in that regard. After all, Jesus said he must die; and only the Apostles knew that means his death freed his soul to be resurrected in countless others.


James said the bickering was within each. That would relate back to them saying "Peace, brother" a lot, but never finding true "peace." Even the Jews who were on the fence, wanting to believe Jesus was the promised Messiah, they were struggling with how to tell and be told what to do. This becomes the problem of still being strongly attached to their love affair with a big brain [like Solomon]. Verse three has James telling them, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” This has to be seen as the ongoing failure of Christianity, especially today; so, this needs to be explained.


For as long as I can remember, being raised in a Christian denomination at the young age that had me watched in a nursery crib in my mother’s church, prayer has been a promotional tool used by religions. Certainly, there is a power of prayer; but James is saying prayers are not answered. He says they are not answered because “you ask wrongly.”


In my mother’s church, the pews had printed forms in slots, along with a pencil, which was titled “Prayer Request.” I imagine, some people might have actually filled out one of those forms and turned it in some place. After that, members of the church would gather in the "prayer room" and pray for the people requesting prayers. I was not old enough to submit a prayer request; but my adult mind tells me there is a chance that is a door-opener to getting names and phone numbers, in order to get new members and new sources of income. That equates to “your pleasures,” more than it does any good knowing what people want prayers for.


My mother’s life was saved by some person who answered the Oral Roberts Prayer Hotline, when she called for prayer when she was having congestive heart failure. The person kept her on the line and called 9-1-1 and reported a medical emergency at my mother’s address. On a Facebook group, Episcopalians regularly ask for prayers, because of one's illness or tragic accident, dangerous operation or medical procedure, even for someone about to die. It comforts people to think others are helping them pray.


As an Episcopalian, I found they have little use for Bibles in racks on pews; but they make sure many Prayer Books are available. They have prayers pre-written for many possible reasons. The Jews also have many prayers they memorize and recite ritually; so, it is quite possible solicitation of prayers and having ‘canned’ prayers have made prayer requests be like taking a Xanex. However, having books of prayers ready for those who are not souls married to Yahweh seems to be putting the cart before the horse.


Because the focus on prayer is so strong in religions, with Judaism and Christianity not the only ones, this takes one back to the wisdom not from heaven point made by James, in chapter three. The “disputes and quarrels” that can be applied to dogma and ritual, as intellectual approaches to prayer, says it was almost a foregone conclusion that a prayer was not expected to be answered, as it was coming from an intellectual perspective, where prayer was an expectation of duty. To think prayer is demanded of faith, in order for God to see one was making an effort to memorize all the songs and prayers, that is faulty reasoning, as if prayer was done so God could deem who was a ‘good Jew.’ The same can be applied to Christians.


To think God led some to write prayers and put them in books, so all the intellectual work was done ahead of time, saving the dimwits from having to think up words to pray, seems Solomonesque, in my mind. That formalized form of prayer can then be seen as at the root of Jesus’ disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. As Jews, having been taught to recite prayers for everything under the sun, their question could then be seen as less about, “What is prayer and how should we go about it?" Instead, it was more like asking, “Does praying help us in any way?”


When Jesus gave his disciples [not the whole wide world] and example of how each soul married to Yahweh should talk to him, beginning by calling Him “Father” [an individual statement applied to twelve disciples (maybe some more followers) means Jesus would say “our,” as a way of specifically speaking to that one group that was more than one], Jesus was not suggesting to them, “Hey guys! You know how you always memorized prayers and that work led you to ask, “How do I pray, so Yahweh hears me?” Well, memorize this one too!”


In that bit of teaching (which seems to be totally overlooked), Jesus said this:


“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray

in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I

tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and

shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in

secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the

Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not

be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)


Every one of those rules is broken by anyone standing in a church (or synagogue), reciting a prayer from memory or one published in a book. It makes understanding the meaning of “hypocrite,” which is: “a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion.” [Merriam-Webster] In Luke 11, Jesus told them to use less verses like those he said [similar to Matthew], but then he told about a scenario where someone asked them for something. Prayer should be like that example, when a friend comes asking for help 'after hours.' Jesus pointed out someone asking for free bread because of a surprise happening - another friend came visiting when the man was not prepared for a visit. Illnesses and accidents, surgeries and deaths come unexpectedly, when one is not prepared to handle it. At those times of need, Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” The point is this: Jesus did not tell his disciples to fill out a wish list and give the list to a friend, expecting to have the friend buy them everything they want, without ever having to do squat.

When Jesus said to call Yahweh “Father,” that is a special relationship that everyone in the world cannot truthfully say. It means a love relationship must be developed. The capitalization of “Father” raises it to a divine level of meaning, where Yahweh becomes one’s “Teacher.” This says the disciples were to Jesus the way Jesus was to Yahweh. All were in the same family of love. Jesus was not telling the members of the Sanhedrin to call Yahweh “Father,” because Jesus would have then promoted them lying, knowing their hearts were far from loving Yahweh. Thus, their souls were far from joining Yahweh's personal family, which means a soul marrying Him and receiving His Spirit.


Next, when Jesus said Yahweh will know your prayer before your brain can even formulate it into a question [“Ask and you will receive”], look at how often people [Gentiles and Jews] came to Jesus out of faith, from having unspoken a prayer for healing. Jesus told them many times, “Go, your faith has healed you.” Their prayers were answered because they did something, based on faith. Without true faith, one’s soul has no personal experience with Yahweh [most don’t even know His name], so “You ask and you do not receive.”


This is where it is good to recall James writing, "Faith without works is dead." When that is applied to prayer, it says prayers are normal conversations between a soul and Yahweh. Yahweh knows what one needs before one asks; so, the faith that does what Yahweh says to do, without questioning, means prayers will be answered without having to ask. One knows what others need, so one acts towards meeting those needs. When asked for bread late at night, after the doors are closed and locked, that means do the work required to give the bread asked for. One must have faith that Yahweh sent a prayer to you, for you to answer.


To minimally meet the “friend” status, one has to do something to impress Yahweh first. So, when one goes knocking on Yahweh's door after it has been closed for the night, asking for some bread to serve someone who came visiting unexpectedly, He at least knows who the heck that one soul is. Being a "friend" of Yahweh means being one of His family. Going and sitting on a church pew and reciting some prayers out of a book is not establishing that kind of close, personal relationship Yahweh wants from His “friends.”


As an optional reading selection to be read aloud on the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s own personal ministry for Yahweh should already be well underway, the lesson of James is to stop thinking you own God, so all you have to do to get to heaven is minimal dogma and ritual stuff: give to a church; go a couple of times a year; own a Bible and a Prayer Book; join some Facebook group for Christians; and put a decal on your car window. All of that might be headed in the right direction, but it is still headed down a path of wisdom that is not from heaven. Being a Christian that has a single soul, not married to Yahweh, possessed by His Spirit, is like being a twelve-year old sister of an older sister who is: a.) married; and, b.) pregnant with her second baby. One can watch that all day long and believe it is real; but until one goes through the same, one has absolutely no faith in one being married and one being a mother. Ministry is not about seeing someone else do it and thinking that’s the way it works.

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