Preacher: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”
Seeker 2: I do not know if I am wise. I do not know if I have the kind of wisdom that you are talking about. I try to be a good person. But does it truly mean to be a “good person.”
Seeker 1: “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.”
Seeker 2: I do not think I am a “bad person.” That is, I hope I am not “devilish” [small laugh] Is it wrong to be ambitious and want things for yourself?
Preacher: “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”
Seeker 2: That does not sound good. I dislike disorder and as I said, I try to be a good person.
Preacher: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
Seeker 2: These sound like good things; purity, peace and gentleness, mercy and good fruits. But a willingness to yield, I do not understand that. And no partiality or hypocrisy – what does that mean?
Preacher: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?”
Seeker 2: It is true that I have felt restless at times. Like there are two opposing forces fighting over . . . something.
Seeker 1: “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.”
Seeker 2: Now wait a minute! I have never committed murder! Never thought about it! Yes, I see things I would like to have; most people have. But disputes and conflicts! I don’t do that. I try to do good! I try to be a good person! What do you want of me?!
Preacher: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a)
Seeker 2: Dear God! I never expected this! I am not sure I am ready for all this!
I want you to imagine, beloved reader, Seeker 2 standing between Seeker 1 and Preacher. Preacher being more soft-spoken of the two, with Seeker 1 as the harsher accusing voice. But both of them volleying these scriptures back and forth, with Seeker 2 trying to make sense of it. We who have grown in faith and feel steady in our beliefs may not appreciate how these scriptures may sound to a new listener or reader. Many of the epistles were filled with new and unusual teachings, strange to hear and understand. Seeker 2 has come (and indeed was created) to embody this type of person.
If you find yourself closer aligned to Seeker 2 than to Seeker 1 and Preacher, do not be alarmed or think I am directing this to you. Every day people are coming to faith, or as is the focus for this lectionary year, coming to renewed and recommitted faith. Every one at some point could be in the role of preachers and seekers. And our Lord God gives instruction and guidance to each person.
I have deliberately left Seeker 2 in a quandary about this passage in James. But I do hope and pray, beloved reader, if you are in a quandary about this passage that you will seek instruction and guidance from someone close at hand to you. Selah!