Lectionary Commentaries for September 6, 2015
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 7:24-37

Micah D. Kiel

The key dynamics of this story seem easy enough to grasp.

A tired and exhausted Jesus seeks solitude. A woman hears about him and asks that he might cast a demon out of her daughter. The details are sparse. Whose house? How did the woman hear about him? Mark seems uninterested in such questions. Some details, however, are intentionally emphasized. Mark often gives what might be called retrospective information, that is, he introduces elements into narrative sections that change the dynamic of the story (e.g., 5:8). This happens here in verse 26: “Now, the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by descent” (my translation). This introduces a twist to the story, making clear its key tension.

Jesus’ response is less than charitable. He dismisses and insults. Mark’s Jesus here uses the Greek word for “dog” in the diminutive, but this does not mean Jesus is calling her a “cute little puppy.” A colloquial translation today might be: “little bitch.” Jesus seems unsure of the relationship between the Gentiles and the Kingdom of God.

If we take a step back and look at Mark’s profile of God’s kingdom throughout the Gospel, we find that it is something surprising and unexpected. The seeds are cast indiscriminately (Mark 4:1-20); it sprouts up without cultivation (Mark 4:26-29); it appears insignificant but becomes monumental (Mark 4:30-32). Those expected to perceive it properly turn out to be ignorant, slow, and hard of heart (Mark 4:35-41; Mark 6:52). The Kingdom of God plays by nobody’s rules but God’s, breaking into the world in the least likely of places, like howling demoniacs, bleeding women, and dead little girls. We have even previously been introduced to Jesus’ lack of control over God’s Kingdom. In Mark 5:24-35 the woman who touches Jesus’ garment causes power to zap out of him, without his own control over it.

Here, in chapter seven, we see Jesus himself among those characters in the Gospel of Mark not fully living into the reality of what the Kingdom of God is like. Jesus suddenly seems reticent to distribute God’s kingdom to a woman who is a gentile. He opts instead for an epithet.

While this depiction of Jesus may seem to propose certain Christological problems, I’m not sure that Mark was thinking about it this way. This is not the only part of the Gospel where Jesus and God are not in lockstep. In the Garden, for instance, Jesus asks for a different path (Mark 14:36). The remarkable thing in this text in chapter 7 is how the woman corrects Jesus. She turns Jesus’ words around and bends the dog metaphor to her advantage. Jesus recognizes this immediately and dismisses the demon from her daughter.

The challenge of Mark’s gospel, embodied so powerfully in this story, is to perceive a God who is active, breaking into the world, and in a way that does not conform to the norms of human institutions, be they religious, social, or political (to the extent that such things can even be separated from one another).

Everything I’ve written here so far is the easy part. We ought not be surprised at ethnic tension in a text form early Christianity. We also, although disappointed, should not be surprised to see problematic gender dynamics emerging from an ancient patriarchal culture. The question becomes: how does this text interface with our world today?

This text suggests that we ask: whose are the marginalized voices today who are speaking truth to power? Where might God be active in a way that our power structures are unable to control or domesticate? As a white male and member of the academic establishment, I am not sure I have the right to answer such questions.

Many modern Christians may see this dynamic in Mark’s Gospel and move immediately to advocacy. We decide who is marginalized and provide a voice for them. We try to nibble around the edges by selling fair trade coffee or driving a Prius. These are not bad things, but they do very little. Mark’s Gospel testifies to the utter change enacted through a real encounter with those who are marginalized or excluded.

A profound example of this is provided to us through the life and work of a little-known Catholic Priest, Father Joseph Wresinski. He grew up in abject poverty in France. He started a group called the “Fourth World Movement” that seeks to eradicate poverty by brining together people from all walks of life. Father Joseph, in his book Blessed are You the Poor, seeks to uncover the radical nature of a gospel of encounter, especially through his own experience with persistent poverty. He claims that the gospel is much more than a text to be read. It is a place to experience those who have been “mutilated by extreme poverty,“ a land where I can go and meet with men and women familiar in speech and gestures and ever worthy of love” (13). This means that we can only get access to what he calls an “immeasurable grace” through the poor: “Only the very poor can obtain it for their more privileged fellow people.”

These are radical ideas, and certainly present certain theological problems. They are, however, exegetically defensible. They cut to the heart of Mark’s observation about God’s activity and the encounter of Jesus with the woman. The gospel is not just advocacy or social programs. It is encounter that changes.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 35:4-7a

Patricia Tull

Why the lectionary excerpts only three and a half verses from Isaiah 35’s cohesive ten-verse poem is unclear.

The chapter reads best together. These ten verses display a striking inverse relationship to the previous chapter, in which the heavens disappear, the land is ruined, streams and soil are poisoned, and only liminal animals and fruitless plants abound. Isaiah 34 paints a vivid verbal portrait of despair, displacing onto neighbor nation Edom all the divine violence felt and feared in Judah.

But Isaiah 35:1 inaugurates a completely different vision. Here what was a landscape of despair blossoms as suddenly as a spring crocus from newly thawed ground. Divine majesty is glimpsed in the wild places as water springs up in the desert. Courage shows itself in the strengthening of weak hands, knees, and hearts. Bodies mirror the healing landscape, as blind eyes open, deaf ears hear, the lame leap up, and the speechless sing.

Chapter 35 anticipates language from Isaiah’s exilic and postexilic portion in Isaiah 40-66, prescribing and describing Judah’s return from exile to rebuild broken Jerusalem. This story of the nation of Judah’s historic resurrection is central to Christian and Jewish faith. Neither Jews nor Christians would exist today had this not occurred.

Events as deeply woven into our history as Jerusalem’s restoration take on for us an air of inevitability. Yet they cannot be taken for granted. Other nations destroyed by great empires — including Aram, Moab, and the Northern Kingdom of Israel — failed to reestablish when their crises passed. We have Judah’s story only because it transcended destruction. Every time our scriptural reading brings us to Jerusalem’s phoenix-like restoration 2500 years ago is a moment to stop for gratitude and wonder.

As Isaiah 34 and 35 vividly show, reversal of fortune isn’t guaranteed. But it is possible. Judah’s success story sets a precedent for hope, showing that happy endings have occurred and can occur.

The lectionary places Isaiah 35 alongside three other passages featuring dramatic reversals that heal and sustain. Psalm 146, like Isaiah 35, imagines God executing justice for the oppressed, feeding the hungry, setting prisoners free, opening blind eyes, and lifting those bowed down. Mark 7 depicts Jesus healing a man who was mute, and allowing his own eyes to be opened by a distressed foreign woman. James 2 counsels favoring the lowly over the influential, and commends deeds over pious sentiments.

In literature, underdog accounts such as these satisfy our thirst for poetic justice. What would be the point of a folktale in which conditions for the lowly went from bad to worse without a dramatic “happily ever after”? Why read detective or adventure novels in which chaos never clears, larger perspectives never appear, and the honorable are never vindicated? We read literature not so much for whether poetic justice will prevail, but how it will do so, which twist or turn will arrive satisfyingly where our souls know it should.

We read the Bible similarly. Stories beginning with barrenness end in fruitfulness. Heroes descend before they ascend: sold into Egypt, threatened with famine, subjected to evil edicts, surrounded by Assyrian forces. They are pursued by rulers, abandoned by supporters, thrown into cisterns, shipwrecked, beaten, and even crucified, dead. But the Bible rarely leaves innocents in such straits. Like other literature, Scripture employs reversals to encourage hope.

Yet we know, painfully, that real life doesn’t offer such tightly sewn plots. Happily ever after isn’t inevitable. Reversals cannot necessarily be counted on. When we are the actors and not merely the audience, stories are more complex.

If we could reliably expect poetic justice in life, of course, all suffering would be as harmless as a gun pointed at the inevitably surviving hero in a police drama. The real possibility of our own failure and the inevitability of our death demand much from us, forcing us to grow in endurance as we hope against hope, as we strengthen spiritual muscles of generosity, patience, and virtue. Some people’s stories end well. But through no fault of their own, others may valiantly lose, or even yield to despair.

Because life differs from literature in this way, readers may be tempted to dismiss passages like Isaiah 35 as having little to do with reality. We may relegate miracles to a fantasy world in which we dare not seek to live.

But if it’s true that hope that is seen is not really hope, it’s also true that hope that is left unseen, that is not dared, is not hope either. It’s true that presuming every blind eye will open — whether literally or metaphorically — is a presumptuous mistake. But so is expecting no blind eyes to open. There’s a middle way: In faith, we can take a stance not of presumption, whether positive or negative, but rather of openness to the future, expectancy for the nearly unimaginable good that God can indeed accomplish at any moment.

What all these lectionary passages share is the human role in bad fortune’s reversal. James is quite blunt: we, the audience, are to be the reversal we wish to see. We are the ones to lift up the downtrodden, to honor the meek, to love neighbors before they have anything to offer us. We are the ones we are waiting for.

Underlying Isaiah 35’s dramatic imagery of divine action, similarly, hope proceeds not simply from God’s expected reversals, but from those the prophet seeks to inspire, from a small band of Judeans who recultivate the burned land and push back the chaos, and thus strengthen their own weak hands, feeble knees, and fearful hearts.

This is a reversal we don’t have to wait for. It’s one we can enact every day. It is people like us — it is we ourselves — who exercise muscles of faith and effort, who heal bodies as physicians or caregivers or donors to medical causes. It’s we who work toward ecological healing, toward recreation of healthy habitats in our yards, our churches, our towns. It’s we who sow order in chaos and hope in despairing hearts.

Czech dissident and first post-communist president Václav Havel said it so well: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it will turn out.” We are the ones we are waiting for. It is we who announce to our listeners, “Here is your God.”

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Walter C. Bouzard

The selection from Proverbs 22 bridges two major sections of the book as a whole.

Verses 1-16 conclude the “Proverbs of Solomon” begun at 10:1. Verse 17, on the other hand, commences a discrete portion of the book that continues to 24:34. These “words of the wise” (22:17) are generally acknowledged to be literarily dependent upon an Egyptian work, The Instructions of Amenemope, a document that likely originated in the New Kingdom during the so-called Ramesside era (1292-1069 BCE).

The specific aphorisms that appear in this reading have in common the theme of wealth and poverty and, specifically, how the wealthy are to regard and treat the poor.

The sense of the included verses is generally straightforward. Verse one reminds the sage’s student that one ought to choose a good reputation before wealth since good favor is of more worth than silver or gold.

Part of that good name and regard stems from a humble recognition that both the rich and the poor are creatures of the LORD (Proverbs 22:2). When they come together, whether in worship or on the street, the wealthy person has no more claim to divine favor than does his less fortunate neighbor. This observation was likely as counterintuitive for the sages’ wealthy contemporaries as it is for a modern society that has long embraced a notion that personal wealth and privilege are the consequence of divine blessing. Elsewhere in Proverbs, the sages observe that wealth is more desirable than poverty1 and that the poor frequently suffer the consequences of their own folly, especially laziness or drunkenness.2 At the end of the day, however, the wealthy for whom this book likely was composed find in verse 2 a reminder that their prosperity earned them no special status before Yahweh.

In this life, however, it is invariably true that the rich rule over the poor and that a borrower is subject to the lender (Proverbs 22:7, not included in the reading). Nevertheless, the wealthy creditor should remember that this relationship ought not to be one of abuse. Iniquity sows the seeds of its perpetrators own inevitable destruction “and the rod of anger will fail” (v. 8b).

In contrast, generous persons will find blessing “for they share their bread with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9). The sages do not specify the nature of that blessing, albeit the verse is surely misunderstood as a crude, divine investment plan whereby the giver will gain materially from acts of charity.

Of course, the person whose life the gift of bread preserves may verbally bless the one sharing his bread.3 It is more likely, however, that the proverb points to a divine blessing that stems from the LORD’s approval. The assumption is that the wealthy person’s abundance is a consequence of the LORD’s prior blessing, a blessing given precisely so that the rich might serve as a conduit of blessing to others. Such is the nature of the blessing promised to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) as well as numerous legal passages that treat the expected conduct of those who have been materially blessed. Deuteronomy, for example, notes that “because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you,” there will be “no one in need among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4).4 Indeed, with regard to the needy, Israel was to be open-handed and ungrudging in generosity “for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake” (Deuteronomy 15:10).

Proverbs 22:22-23 circumscribe the wealthy person’s mistreatment of the poor. In words that echo the prophetic tradition,5 the wisdom authors enjoin the wealthy to act justly and, especially, not to manipulate the legal system to crush the poor. To do so sets the rich in opposition to the LORD who will act as an attorney for the poor. No one less than the LORD will rob the robbers of their spoil (v. 23).

If the teachings of the aphorisms are plain, the interpretive application is not. Much depends on one’s understanding of the social location and attitude of the sages.

In a seminal 1987 study, J. David Pleins argues that the values and interests of the wisdom writers aligned with those of the urban elite whom they served. Pleins concludes that the sages discussed poverty for its heuristic value in helping students grasp the proper attitude toward wisdom, an attitude that they thoroughly enmeshed with their concern for “social status, class distinction, and the proper use of wealth.”6 According to Pleins, the wisdom writers of Proverbs were unaware that, “in fact, the urban population was making great gains from its exploitation of the poor — a fact which was foremost in the denunciation of the prophets.”7

In a more recent work, Timothy J. Sandoval argues that the sages used wealth as a motivational symbol “to underscore the desirability of the way of wisdom generally and the values and virtues associated with that way.”8 Sandoval describes three overlapping but distinct subdiscourses in Proverbs, including a “discourse of social justice” that exhorted readers to practice an ethic of justice in the marketplace and in the treatment of the poor.

If Pleins’ analysis is correct, this text presents the preacher with an opportunity to expose the unhealthy link between our own generally privileged attitudes about wealth and the needy on the one hand, and the actual roots of poverty on the other. For example, the blessings described for the one sharing bread (Proverbs 22:9) stand at some remove from contemporary illiberal grumbling about wages sufficient for living, so-called entitlement programs, and legal loopholes that protect extraordinarily wealthy people from helping the poor in proportion to the middle class.

If Sandoval is correct, an accent on social justice is not imposed on the text, but inherent in it.

In any case, theses proverbs tie nicely to the verses appointed for this day from James 2. Both lections resist a sloganized subversion of Paul’s teaching on justification by grace through faith. Like James, these proverbs call us to act and live justly, especially with regard to the needy among us.


1 E.g., Proverbs 10:15; 14:20.

2 Proverbs 6:6-1: 10:41; 21:5; 24:33-34.

3 R.B.Y. Scott translates, “A generous man will hear himself blessed when he gives of his own food to the needy.” See R.B.Y. Scott, Proverbs. Ecclesiastes, in AB vol. 18, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965), 126.

4 The more sober recognition of verse Deuteronomy 15:11 tempers this ideal: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.””

5 See, for example, Amos 2:6-8; 5:10-12, 15; Isa 10:1-2; Jer 5:28; 22:3; Ezek 22:29.

6 J. David Pleins, “Poverty in the Social World of the Wise,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 37 (1987): 72.

7 J. David Pleins, “Poverty,” 72. Pleins’ argument depends in some measure on his treatment of Proverbs 22:22-23. Pleins believes that the concern for justice in the gate/court expressed here is anomalous and that it likely originated not from the sapiential reflections on wealth and poverty that guide the rest of the book, but rather entered via the influence of the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope. See Pleins, “Poverty,” 69.

8 Timothy J. Sandoval, The Discourse of Wealth and Poverty in the Book of Proverbs, (Leiden: Brill, 2006): 68.


Commentary on Psalm 146

Esther M. Menn

Psalm 146 opens a collection of five hallelujah psalms at the end of the book of Psalms (146-150).

Each of these psalms begins and ends by encouraging everyone to “praise the LORD!” which is the meaning of the Hebrew phrase hallelu-yah. This joyful set of psalms is a fitting conclusion for the book of Psalms, which in Hebrew is known as “Praise Songs” (Tehillim).

Psalm 146 celebrates the good news that in the face of human frailty and mortality God remains trustworthy. What is more, God’s sovereignty from creation to eternity is dedicated to assisting those in deepest need and direst circumstances. Lifelong praise through bearing witness to God’s reign is the theme of Psalm 146.

The opening verses present an internal dialogue. An individual responds to the general call to “praise the LORD” by pledging herself to praise the LORD “as long as I live” and to sing God’s praises “all my life long” (vss. 1-2; compare Psalm 103:1). The human lifespan is introduced as ample time for expressing God’s goodness. (A contrasting emphasis on the brevity of human life appears in the critique of earthly rulers in vss. 3-4.)

An alternate translation of verse 2 identifies human life not only as the timeframe but also as the means through which to praise God: “I will praise the LORD though my life; I will sing God’s praises through my existence” (author’s translation). This translation suggests events in a person’s own life that illustrate God’s faithfulness. It also implies that the way one lives one’s life is itself an act of praise. Living out God’s values of truth, justice, and responsiveness to those in need described in vss. 5-9 acknowledges God’s goodness. This inspiring range of meanings is due to the scope of the Hebrew preposition in both phrases, which can mean “in, during, through, or by means of” (b).

The psalm suddenly shifts to the topic of human leaders or “nobles.” Even the best public officials, teachers, business leaders, and social change agents are limited in their efforts to help those in trouble, not because they are evil but because they are disappointing. Those who promise assistance are themselves mortal. Like the first “human being” (’adam) in Genesis, they die and return to the “earth” (’adamah, verse 4), and their plans fail on that day, a brief unit of time contrasting to the eternity of God’s reign. The stories of even the greatest of Israel and Judah’s leaders, such as Moses and David, demonstrate their fallibility. Contemporary examples of our leaders’ limitations are also easy to identify.

The rest of Psalm 146 gives a contrasting vision of God as an attentive and reliable sovereign. An opening beatitude highlights the good fortune of the person who trusts in the God of Jacob (verse 5). The ideology of ancient near eastern kingship as ensuring justice and as protecting the vulnerable lies behind the portrait of God as a helper in time of need that follows. (See Psalm 72 for an expression of this royal ideology.)

The qualities that make God praiseworthy are described through a series of wonderful verbs, all participles expressing habitual behaviors. Creation, restoration, and caregiving mark God’s character. God is always acting!

God is first of all the one who creates. The scope of God’s creative action is as large as the heavens, the earth, and the sea, as well as everything that inhabits them. The entire creation is undergirded by God’s eternal truth (verse 6).

God’s action quickly shifts from the panorama of creation to specific categories of vulnerable human beings. It is easy to identify people today who fall into the categories identified in Psalm 146:7-9 as the recipients of God’s special attention. Additional categories specific to local, national, or global contexts might be identified as well.

People who are exploited, experiencing hunger, and incarcerated are given top priority (verse 7).

God brings justice to those who have been economically, socially, or sexually abused for another’s advantage. The same Hebrew verb, “making” (‘oseh), is used to describe both God’s creating (‘oseh) of the entire world and God’s giving (‘oseh) of justice to those who have been oppressed. Creation and liberation are interrelated activities.

Providing food for the hungry follows as a parallel to God’s granting of justice. The help provided is not abstract, but real assistance in time of the body’s distress (see James 2:15-16). Food justice as an ongoing issue, exemplified by “food deserts” in some U.S. neighborhoods, might be lifted up in a sermon.

The third and final category in verse 7 includes those who are bound, whom God releases. The huge prison population in the United States springs to mind in this connection.

Healing of bodily and spiritual infirmities and restoration to wholeness follows (verse 8). Mark 7 contains parallels, with the Syrophoenician woman corresponding to the person bowed down who is raised up (Mark 7:25-26) and the man who is deaf and mute a variant of the blind person given sight (Mark 7:37; see also Isiah 35:5-6). Jesus ministry embodies God’s reign.

God’s love of the righteous belongs in this grouping, because the righteous commit themselves to reconciliation and to restoration of relationships.

The final categories of people for whom God advocates are those who are marginalized and powerless (verse 9). The resident alien (ger), the orphan, and the widow are three groups of vulnerable people whom God protects and expects Israel to protect (Exodus 22:20-23). No one who intends harm (the “wicked”) will ultimately succeed.

Psalm 146 portrays an amazing vision of healing, restoration, and wholeness. Living in a broken world where disappointment, anger, and injustice remain all too common, we are assured that God’s kingdom is different. We are emboldened to hope and to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The psalm concludes by acknowledging the eternal rule of Zion’s God, from generation to generation. With the divine help characteristic of God’s trustworthy governance in Psalm 146, the reasons for praising God are clear! Hallelujah!

Second Reading

Commentary on James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

A.K.M. Adam

The exposition in last week’s passage, James 1:17-27, can strike readers as abstruse and random; this morning’s lesson, however, is clear and pointed as broken glass.

James poses a hypothetical situation to his readers — or perhaps describes a situation he knows already to be going on. This focal example takes up the themes that James has already flagged up as pivotal for his theology, and shows how a scene from everyday life illustrates exactly the failings against which he had warned readers.

In the first chapter, James has drawn out a vision of faithfulness to God in which we demonstrate our fidelity by reflecting God’s character in our human lives. Whereas life apart from God succumbs to desire, leading people to sin and thence to death, James urges his readers to adopt their identity as true children of God by living in the Father’s way. They need to keep their faithfulness to God whole-hearted and consistent, lest they waver and turn away; and their steadfast faithfulness should be manifest in their action on behalf of widows and orphans, the needy for whom God has shown particular care.

“That’s all very well in theory,” says James, “but let’s look at what actually happens in your congregations.” (James says sunagogê, “synagogue,” but he is probably not making a point about a “Jewish” rather than “Christian” gathering; the two terms are effectively synonymous.) When an elegantly-dressed man — “gold-fingered and in radiant clothing” — visits your church, is he treated as more special than the homeless beggar in filthy rags? James suspects that you give the snazzy dresser a more prominent place, and the fragrant vagrant a more inconspicuous place (“Stand over there, or sit on this kneeler”).

It does not take an advanced degree in theology to tell that such behavior doesn’t go well with what James has put forward as God’s way. In James 1:27, he has reminded readers that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is … to care for orphans and widows in their distress”; by the same token, he says, “God [has] chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom” (2:5). Whatever we might say about cultivating benefactors whose (hypothetical) gifts might provide sustenance for ministries and programs, James recognizes the temptation to favor people like us, or whom we wish we were, over against people whose affliction reminds us of how contingent our good fortune may be. This is just the half-hearted discipleship that submits to desire: the desire to be comfortable, the desire to be upwardly mobile, the desire to experience only life’s ups, and to be insulated from life’s downs. Such desire fuels litigious efforts to secure our well-being at the expense of others, regardless of their own contingent circumstances. By contrast, whole-hearted faithfulness to God will always require of us whole-hearted faithfulness to the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters: to orphans and widows, to our naked, hungry neighbors, to wounded and broken left-behind bystanders.

No one wants that kind of life, unless they have been overwhelmed by a different sort of desire. No one wants to look into the true mirror and see a scarred face which hardship has scribed with the seams and wrinkles graven by years of endurance. Yet James insists that this face of one who has known sorrows, who is acquainted with grief, is our birthright. He twice invokes the images of kingship in these verses: the royal law obliges us to love our neighbor as ourself, and the destitute have been chosen to inherit God’s kingdom. James sees in the faces of beggars the resplendent visages of celestial queens and kings; he recognizes that true beauty comes not from the use of costly creams to moisturize our skin, but from our similarity to God’s hungry, chilled children.

(The lectionary permits omitting James 2:11-13. Verse 11 does — confusingly — seem to take it for granted that the congregation tolerates murder; and suggests that if you commit murder, that might lead even to adultery. It’s easy to see why they might skip that! But the assurance in v 12 that “mercy triumphs over judgment” provides a vital balance for the ominous warnings James addresses to wavering readers. Though v 11 might lead to some difficult questions after the service, I would firmly encourage including these verses for the opportunity to pair James’s stringent exhortation to costly discipleship with the reassurance that the God who will judge our half-heartedness will all the more demonstrate mercy to us.)

The very common impulse to show generous hospitality to those who need it least, and to withhold that generosity to those who need it most, exemplifies James’s central emphasis on integrity. There is no integrity, no integration to a faith that cozies up to privilege and turns its back on need. Faith that is not joined-up with consistent action, it is no faith at all. While James is often characterized as anti-Pauline, his emphasis on active faith coheres perfectly with Paul’s own insistence that those who have received the Holy Spirit in being baptized into Christ’s death in order to share his resurrection should jolly well manifest the Spirit’s guidance in the conduct by which their lives reflect the Spirit working through them.

The last paragraph of today’s reading thus sums up James’s point that faith involves more than affirming theological formulas, but a thorough reorientation of one’s life. Faith makes a difference in us. More importantly (in these verses), faith makes a difference in our relations with our sisters and brothers: just as God has chosen needy, broken, bereft brothers and sisters as the visible embodiment of Jesus’ good news among us, so faith reorders our own desires away from securing our well-being by our own efforts, from enhancing our image by associating with glittering celebrities, and summons us to make our friends among the shabby poor, and to trust the provision of God who gives freely to all.