Saturday, January 18, 2014

Problems For James (part 4 of 4)

It must be remembered that these were highly charged times in a number of ways.  Much like Jesus, who expected His listeners to have ears to hear, James did not offer direct criticism.  Such a thing would have been unwise, especially when attempting to build a nascent, revolutionary movement that acts in ways that are increasingly contrary to the prevailing cultural ethos.  Presumably then, the “rich” demands to be understood not in a general sense as those with money, but primarily as the rulers of the people, and those who have gained their wealth by oppression (and possibly corruption in connection with the Temple).  The same type of language can be observed with writers such as Paul and John, as they cloaked their subversive words, whether those words were subversive of the authorities of Israel or Rome, in what might be considered to be obscure or relatively innocuous language. 

However, what might be obscure to the modern reader would likely be readily understandable to those that comprised the community to whom the words were initially directed.  Indeed, to this end, Paul can be regularly heard taking up much of the language of the Caesar cult in his letters---a language and relatively well-known liturgy that would have been quite familiar to those that received his letters (a prime example of this is the “from faith to faith” statement of Romans 1:17), but which would be heard quite differently by those that live at a tremendous time and distance from the Apostle and his world.

These early believers and Jesus-confessors, living in altogether different times with a message that challenged the power structures of their entire world (both Jewish and Greco-Roman), were required to speak and write in a way that forced the recipients of their words, whether they be spoken or written, to make the necessary connections and extrapolations that would convey right understanding.  It is incumbent upon all those who approach Scripture so as to join in its story, if there is a sincere desire to rightly hear and understand even the smallest portion of what is being communicated, to make the attempt to become immersed in that same world.  

This requires those that are not denizens of the first century, to engage in a serious, sustained, and strenuous mental effort to put aside cultural conditions and geographically and chronologically defined worldviews that cannot be foisted upon the world of the New Testament.  This most definitely must be done, quite obviously, to understand Jesus’ words, and indeed all of the words of Scripture, lest one shortchange the words and intentions of the one called Lord and God, and so go about one’s merry way of ignorant and prideful spirituality. 

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