We’re reading from the Letter of James for a week or so at Mass. The letter, commentators believe, was written for Jewish-Christian exiles living in a foreign land after being driven from Jerusalem. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.”
James, a relative of Jesus, leader of the Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem, was stoned to death in the mid 60s, as the Jewish establishment turned against the followers of Jesus and forced many of them to flee. Jerusalem itself fell into revolutionary turmoil; in 70 AD Roman armies destroyed the city and crushed the Jewish revolt.
That meant Jewish-Christian exiles were not only exiled from home, but they could never return. Some commentators believe this letter contains an original letter of James sent to support the exiles and other material later added to it.
The letter opens with words of support. It’s tough to be thrown into exile, but tough times test your faith, so be brave, your faith will become stronger. God will give you the wisdom to know what to do; keep asking for it.
If you wonder what happened to the original Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, the letter seems to tell us.There’s some consoling words for the exiles, but not many. So much of the letter is challenging, no relaxing of standards or permission for self-pity. Keep your standards high, the letter insists and as the old song says: “When you’re down and out, lift up your head and shout: There’s gonna be a great day.”
Father Henry Free, a missionary for 40 years in the Philippines, died last Saturday and his funeral Mass was yesterday in our chapel here in Jamaica, NY. Missionaries like Henry are “voluntary exiles” who leave their own countries to bring the faith to others. We have a thriving province of Passionists in the Philippines now and a number of them have become “voluntary exiles” in places like East Jerusalem, Sweden, Vietnam, the United States and Canada. Some of Henry’s spirit passed on to them.