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From: James 4:1-10
The Source of Discord
1. “Wars” and “fighting” are an exaggerated reference to the contention and dis-
cord found among those Christians. “Passions”, as elsewhere in the New Testa-
ment, means concupiscence, hedonism, pleasure-seeking (cf. verse 3; Luke 8:
14; Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:13).
St. James points out that if one fails to fight as one should against one’s evil in-
clinations, one’s inner disharmony overflows in the form of quarreling and fighting.
The New Testament often refers to the good kind of fight, which confers inner free-
dom and is a prerequisite for salvation (cf., e.g., Matthew 11:12; Romans 7:14-25;
1 Peter 2:11).
“How can you be at peace if you allow passions you do not even attempt to con-
trol to drag you away from the ‘pull’ of grace?
“Heaven pulls you upwards; you drag yourselves downwards. And don’t seek ex-
cuses — that is what you are doing. If you go on like that, you will tear yourself
apart” (St. J. Escriva, “Furrow”, 851).
2-3. St. James is describing the sad state to which free-wheeling hedonism (spe-
cifically, greed for earthly things) leads.
“You do not receive, because you ask wrongly”: “He asks wrongly who shows no
regard for the Lord’s commandments and yet seeks Heavenly gifts. He also asks
wrongly who, having lost his taste for Heavenly things, seeks only earthly things
— not for sustaining his human weakness but to enable him to indulge himself”
(St. Bede, “Super Iac. Expositio, ad loc.”).
4-6. The sacred writer warns that inordinate love of the world, which stems from
ambition, is incompatible with the love of God. “World” here has the meaning of
“enemy of God”, opposed to Christ and His followers (cf. note on 1:26-27). The
teaching contained in these verses echoes that of our Lord: “No one can serve
two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devo-
ted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon”
The Saints have frequently reminded us—by their lives as well as their teachings
— that inordinate love of the world is incompatible with the love of God: “Worldly
society has flowered from a selfish love which dared to despise even God, where-
as the communion of saints is rooted in a love of God that is ready to trample on
self” (St. Augustine, “The City of God”, 14, 28).
“Unfaithful creatures!”: the original Greek simply says, “Adulterers” (feminine)
and the New Vulgate, “Adulterers” (masculine). This echoes the symbol the pro-
phets often use (cf., e.g. Hosea 1:2ff; Jeremiah 3:7-10; Ezekiel 16:1ff) of the mar-
riage of God and His people sealed by the Covenant. St. James, therefore, is not
referring to the sin of adultery; he is berating those whose excessive love for the
things of this world makes them unfaithful to God.
5. The original Greek is open to various interpretations and the quotation as given
here is not to be found in the Bible. Translated word for word it means: “Jealously
he loves the spirit which dwells in us.” It is not clear who “loves”— God or the spi-
rit; and “the spirit” may mean the soul or the Holy Spirit; moreover, the jealousy
can be either something good or something bad (like envy). It might perhaps be
translated as “The Spirit who dwells in us jealously loves us” (which is how the
New Vulgate translates it).
Although this sentence does not appear literally in the Bible, St. James may be
referring not so much to a specific passage as to an idea which often occurs in
the Bible when it depicts God as a jealous lover (cf., e.g., Exodus 20:5; 34:14;
Zechariah 1:14; 8:2), who expects His love to be returned wholeheartedly; this ve-
ry human kind of language is a most moving evocation of God’s immense love for
man. St. Alphonsus teaches: “Since He loves us with infinite love, He desires all
our love; that is why He is jealous when He sees others having a share in hearts
which He wants entirely for His own. ‘Jesus is jealous’, St. Jerome said (Epistle
22), in the sense that He does not want us to love anything that is outside Him-
self. And if He sees that some creature has a part of your heart, He is in a sense
envious of it, as the Apostle James writes, because He tolerates no rival for our
love; He wants to have all our love” (”The Love of Jesus Christ”, Chapter 11).
6. The sacred writer foresees the possibility that some may draw back from this
“jealous” love God expects to be reciprocated: but God never expects the impos-
sible; He gives us all the grace we need to do what He asks: “All my hope is
naught,” St. Augustine exclaims, “save in Your great mercy. Grant what You
command, and command what You will” (”Confessions”, 10, 29).
However, only people who are humble are given this grace, and have it bear fruit.
The proud, who are full of self-love, even fail to realize that they need grace, and
so they do not ask for it, or do not ask for it properly. The second part of the
verse is a literal quotation from Proverbs 3:34 (according to the Septuagint
Greek): it is an example of the “poetic” form, with the characteristic antithetical
parallelism of Hebrew verse. St. Augustine, in his explanation of the fact that
the Bible refers in places to the sins of prominent men, urges his readers to be
humble, commenting that “there is scarcely a page in the sacred books which
does not echo the fact that ‘God resists the proud and gives grace to the hum-
ble’” (”De Doctrina Christiana”, 3, 23).
7-10. Some ways of countering pride are identified here: basically what is requi-
red is a sincere and deep conversion, which must begin with the humility of re-
cognizing that we are sinners and in need of purification. The tone of these
verses is reminiscent of the way the Old Testament prophets upbraid the people
of Israel for the unfaithfulness to Yahweh.
To draw near to God the sinner needs purification. “Cleaning your hand” should
not be understood as referring to the physical ablutions of the Jews (cf. Exodus
30:19-21; Mark 7:1-5); but should be taken in a moral sense—purification from
sins, and upright actions (e.g., Isaiah 1:15-17; 1 Timothy 2:8). Of all the possible
ways of being purified and converted (for example, the penitential rite at Mass, a
visit to a shrine, or fasting), “none is more significant,” Bl. John Paul II reminds
us, “more divinely efficacious or more lofty and at the same time easily accessi-
ble as a rite than the Sacrament of Penance [...]. For a Christian, “the sacra-
ment of Penance is the ordinary way of obtaining forgiveness and the remission
of sins committed after Baptism” (”Reconciliatio Et Paenitentia”, 28 and 31).
7. When someone resists the devil’s temptations, the devil leaves him alone: he
cannot force a man to commit sin. The “Shepherd of Hermas” (a work by an ano-
nymous Christian writer, around the middle of the Second Century) elaborates on
the same idea: “Be converted, you who walk in the commandments of the devil,
commandments that are hard, bitter, cruel and foul. And do not fear the devil ei-
ther, because he has no power against you [...]. The devil cannot lord it over
those who are servants of God with their whole heart and who place their hope
in Him. The devil can wrestle with, but not overcome them. So, if you resist him,
he will flee from you in defeat and confusion” (”Eleventh Commandment”, 4, 6
9. “Be wretched”: “To acknowledge one’s sin—penetrating still more deeply into
the consideration of one’s own personhood—”to recognize oneself as a sinner”,
capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning
to God” (”Reconciliatio Et Paenitencia”, 13).
Mourning and weeping are the external expression of sincere repentance (cf. Mat-
thew 5:4 and note; Tobias 2:6; Amos 8:10): “You are crying? Don’t be ashamed
of it. Yes, cry: men also cry like you, when they are alone and before God. Each
night, says King David, I soak my bed with tears. With those tears, those burning
manly tears, you can purify your past and supernaturalize your present life” (St.
J. Escriva, “The Way”, 216).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.
Thank you. Words to guide me today:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.