We’re reading at Mass from the Letter of James, a relative of Jesus and leader of the Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem. Commentators believe the letter was written to Jewish-Christian exiles driven from the city and now living in a foreign land. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.”
James 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 in 70 AD when Roman armies destroyed the city and crushed the Jewish revolt.
Jewish-Christian exiles were not only exiled from their beloved city, but would 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.
The letter tells us what happened to the original Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem that featured so prominently in the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Some consoling words are given to the exiles, but not many. The letter is challenging; no relaxing of standards, no 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.”