Week 22, Sunday. Words of THE WORD

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to You all the day long. O Lord, You are good and forgiving, full of mercy to all who call to You. (Psalm 86:3, 5)

God of might, giver of every good gift,
put into our hearts the love of your name,
so that, by deepening our sense of reverence, and,
by your watchful care, keep safe what you have nurtured.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. (Psalm 15:1).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Humbly (πραΰτητι, prauteti) welcome (δέξασθε, dexasthe) the word that has been planted (ἔμφυτον, emphuton) in you and is able to save (σῶσαι, sosai) your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:21b-22, 27)”
With the return to the continuous proclamation from the Gospel according to Mark this Sunday, another blessing befalls us in listening to the Word of God this Sunday: all three proclamations center on the authentic reception of the Lord’s Word and translating that reception into proper action. Deuteronomy records Moses’ instruction concerning the “statues and decrees” and how blest Israel is in knowing exactly how to respond to the Lord’s providential care and blessings of all the needed resources especially the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. James not only echoes the Commandments but hits the core of them by reminding his listeners of the imperative to care for the vulnerable among us in a proper way. In a similar way, Jesus’ instruction to the crowd addresses distortions that crept into living the Commandments and what exactly defiled a person in the eyes of God. While all three of these proclamations take up a similar lesson this Sunday, it is important to look at another dimension of ‘doing’ the Commandments: just how are the Commandments being lived? To gain some insight to this question, we turn to God’s Word from the Letter of James.

In the translation we listen to this Sunday, we are told to “Humbly welcome …” πραΰτης (prautes), translated “humbly” in the Text, is generally understood as “mild,” “meek” or “gentle” in antiquity. It describes an attitude or demeanor regarding the presentation of oneself to another. πραΰτης actions are devoid of anger and harshness. In some usages in ancient texts, πραΰτης refers to how a person expresses himself or herself in speech: generally, very softly so as to be able to listen to the word of the other. More typical though, πραΰτης expresses a twofold action characterized by a balance between gentility in reception coupled with strength and conviction to accomplish that which has been received. In other words, πραΰτης is not about being “mild, meek or gentle” to the point of people walking all over you. πραΰτης is not suggesting that a person must become a doormat or never stand up to injustice or oppression; quite the opposite! The human tendency though is to rush head-on into life, a take-charge attitude that sometimes is the equivalent of a stream-roller flattening everyone and everything in the path because I have a job to do. As far as the Letter of James is concerned, there is certainly a job that needs doing: “to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Doing that work, as important and as necessary as it is, must be done in a certain way and this is where the older, less frequently translated meaning of πραΰτης (softly speaking so as to listen to the other) is helpful.
When Jesus chides the Pharisees for how they have observed religious practices, notice what Jesus says. The various practices in themselves are not bad or evil. At the hands of the Pharisees, Jesus has a problem with how the practices are accomplished. One can say that they are not being done in the sense of πραΰτης: there is no “mild, meek or gentle” receptivity on the part of the Pharisees. This is an attitude of ‘let’s get this done, let’s get this over with – let’s get this out of the way (a point heard by some concerning Worship on Sundays …).’ The needed gentleness to listen to the voice of the Other, in this case the Lord Himself, is essential to prevent ‘religious works’ from being ‘corrupting’ or even ‘scandalous works.’ At all times, the disciple of Jesus must listen and be attentive to the Word of God not only to know what needs to be done, but how.