The End of James


So here at the end of these 31 days of James, I feel blessed. I’ve tried to treasure this early Christian letter the way its first recipients would have treasured it. Reading it verse by verse, passage by passage, I’ve tried to soak it in. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, God breathed out this work through James. I have tried to get my face close enough to draw in some of that breath. John 14:26 suggests that scripture provides words the Holy Spirit brings to mind as a means of speaking, and I have experienced this. Troubles, distractions, temptations, and loneliness come upon me in various shades, and often enough, the relevant words out of James come to mind in response. Count it all joy....

But there is something still missing, something I still want. James was a sibling of Jesus, a kid brother to the Son of Man. And James never knew Jesus was the Messiah until his brother was taken, beaten, nailed like furniture, and left to squirm and scream. And even that wasn’t enough, because his brother came back to stand before him personally, just him, James alone (1 Corinthians 15:7).

My question is: What was that like? How did that feel?

Just asking this line of questioning reveals what a product of the modern world I am, and what a modern reader. I look for disclosure. The people who have experienced extremes or depths are expected, somehow, to present the emotional content of that experience for my own and others’ perusal. We are so comfortable, so safe within our routines, that we look for second-hand emotions to sample like bonbons just so we can feel something without putting anything about our own selves at risk.

James was a leader of the Christian church by the time he wrote this letter. His thoughts were with the church. He picked up a pen, or dictated to a scribe, the instructions that were on his heart to give—the instructions that he thought would make the people of the church stronger. If he felt despair over the fact that it took him so long to recognize the Messiah, over the fact that he could not see the true nature of his own mother’s son, then this emotion was his burden to carry. It was his anchor, his ballast, keeping him fixed upon the work to which he was called. It was not something to be traded cheaply in search of consolation. And while telling stories about the boyhood of the Nazarene might be harmless enough, those stories would entirely miss the point of the Son of Man.

James simultaneously illustrates both the necessity and the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He illustrates the necessity, because without the death and rebirth, people were not able to see. Jesus’ own brother could not see. The clues were always there, but it took Jesus standing before him in the risen flesh before the clues made sense. I imagine James rejoiced upon seeing his brother in this way. But also, much later, I believe he wept. He wept for how much he had squandered of the life he could have lived with his brother, and for the heartless and reckless arrogance that had enabled him to be so blind.

And, as I say, James also illustrates the resurrection’s power. He illustrates its transformative power—salvation’s power. James the kid brother, James the fool, now became James the leader. He stood up out of the wanton blindness with which he had protected himself, with which he had preserved his once-tidy life, and he took up the truth. He squarely faced the trials that came from this and he found the doorway into joy.

He held together a church that is still held together today.

And he taught something, out of the depths of his experience. Through his brokenness, God breathed. God whispered through him with grace and love to speak some of the very first words of a second canon of scripture, the unexpected canon that came after Jesus Christ. From James and through James came this astonishing extra gift, a testament that was altogether new.