The Readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (A1)
- Is 35:1-6a, 10
- Psalm 146 (Responsorial)
- James 5:7-10
- Isaiah 61:1 (Gospel Acclamation)
- Matthew 11:2-11
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.James 5:7 (NABRE)
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
WHY IS JAMES ASKING US to be patient? The notes to my Lectors’ Handbook suggest this is a reading looking to hope in the 2nd Coming of Messiah. But That seems odd if you read the whole pericope: what’s that bit about the farmer? And the complaining thing? What’s that? Indeed, as the notes in the Handbook seem to indicate, this reads rather like a bunch of random wisdom sayings strung together here that we might have some pithy quotes to lob about. But I don’t think so.
If you pull back just a bit in the Epistle of St James, there’s a longer argument going on here that starts in the previous chapter. I think the whole argument runs from 4:1 to 5:11. That’s a bit long to take in at Mass, or even for a 7 Minute Homily, but let me sketch out the argument:
4:1 Why are there fights in the Church?
4:2 – 4 Because you covet things other people have, you’re jealous about who has what position, power, etc. In fact, that just shows you’re still friends with the world rather than God. Then James calls us unfaithful wives (to God), repeating something the Prophets said about Israel all the time.
4:5-10 if we are, therefore, humble before God, he will fight for us against these temptations. Humble yourself before God and he will lift you up.
4:11-12 We have an example of pride now. Gossip. Remember, these temptations lead to fights in the Church so…. don’t speak evil of each other. No backstabbing gossip, etc. That would cut off most of Coffee Hour sometimes. If you speak evilly of a brother or sister in Christ it means you’re judging them. NOTICE PLEASE that St James doesn’t seem to care if your comments are right or wrong. He says we talk this way because of our own pride. Pride leads to covetousness. That causes fights in the Church. STOP HAVING FIGHTS IN THE CHURCH. See?
4:13-17 We have another example of pride now: we make boasts all the time. Look what I plan to do tomorrow. Watch me do this thing. Look, Ma! No hands! All such boasting is evil. (Side note: this would end most staff meetings and all advertising.)
5:1-6 James carries this into an example of the example: rich people, who tend to boast in their wealth, are, in fact, being unjust all over the place. God will get them. Don’t envy them, don’t covet their wealth. We see that covetousness is a sign of friendship with the world up in Chapter 4, and that’s what causes fights in the church…
Finally getting to our passage today.
5:7 THEREFORE BE PATIENT, waiting for the Lord to return. What has that to do with anything? Why is there a farmer?
Because God is doing something here. God is working on the rich. On the prideful. On the Gossips. On the unfaithful wife, the Church herself. God is doing something here and he – the faithful farmer – is willing to wait until the early rain (Baptism) and the latter rain (the Holy Spirit) fall on all us sinners and make us into a fruitful harvest. SO WE should also be patient with one another not judging each other – or even COMPLAINING about things as they are – because such judging (back to 4:1) arises from pride and covetousness. And causes fights in the Church. So…
Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Update: by way of application, this is about a lot of things. It reminds me of the old tshirt wisdom, “Be patient, God’s not finished with me yet.” Reading that as a prayer for humility on the part of the wearer and the reader is important. I’m a jackass, I know, but God is working on me…
This passage usually gets spun as a ugent advice along the lines of Sure, Jesus isn’t coming back now but wait some more. It seems rather to mean, Thankfully, Messiah hasn’t yet come back so we have some time to let him work on things in us.
Finally, to let God do that work in you (or in me) you have to be humble, don’t complain, bear with each other, and let God use the tools he has picked to do the job.