This week all the first readings are from the Letter to James. The book is less letter and far more a work akin to the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Consider the opening of James which is from the first reading for today: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Where typical letters start with “thanksgiving prayers,” James begins with an exhortation to persevere. Instead of being depressed by difficulties or thinking that trials undermine the Christian proclamation of Jesus’ victory, we are to count trials as “all joy.” It is similar to 1 Pet 1:6–7 in which trials are deemed valuable because they test the gold of faith in fire. In our passage trails are to be welcomed, or at least not avoided, because they lead to worthwhile ends: endurance, perfection, and maturity (v. 4). The chain effect of one virtue leading to another. In this it is also an exhortation addressed to people who have been justified in Christ and for whom sanctification (i.e., endurance and growth toward maturity) is now the dominant task.
It is that chain effect that is always hard to see at the beginning of the trial. In the walk of faith we are called, out of love, to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” (cf. 1 Cor 13:7) We persevere until the end.
Two young frogs fell into a bucket of milk. Both tried to jump to freedom, but the sides of the bucket were steep and no foundation or support was to be had on the surface of the liquid.
Seeing little chance of escape, the first frog soon despaired and stopped jumping. After a short while, he sank to the bottom of the bucket and drowned.
The second frog also saw no likelihood of success, but he never stopped trying. Even though each jump seemed to reach the same inadequate height, he kept on struggling. Eventually, his persistent efforts churned some milk into butter. From the now hardened surface of the milk, he managed to leap out of the bucket.