Are we there yet?

The familiar complaint and plea from the backseat of a long road trip – or what seems long to the one voicing the inquiry. And the longer the destination looms in an unclear and uncertain future, the more mischief blossoms in the back seat. “He’s touching me” / “she on my side, make her move over / “they won’t let me sit by the window.”  It is not the jealousy, envy, malicious slander, and defamation that James has been admonishing the community about, but it bubbles up from the same source.

Consider the lexicon of words used in our first reading today: hardship, patience, persevered, and perseverance. A typical Greek word used elsewhere is hypomenō, but James uses an imperative alternative: makrothymēsate. It is a command that is contextualized by the warning the Judge stands at the gate. (Perhaps the divine parent speaking to those in the backseat: “Don’t make me stop this car…”)

Just two verses before our reading, James writes: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. 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. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  (James 5:7-8) Here he uses hypomonē: patient waiting for the Day of the Lord, or the growth of the seed, or the fulfillment of prophecies.  But when it comes to “perseverance” accompanied by suffering, he opts for the stronger makrothymēsate. This was recognized by the Jews as a gift from God (Is 57:15), a spirit that keeps hypomonē alive.

I would suggest that for the context of “suffering” one need consider the simple phrase in v.9: “about one another.” In our passage today James is thinking not of our personal afflictions like pain, disease, or old age, but of malicious, inconsiderate, or snarly vexations such as we sometimes suffer from our friends, enemies, or others.

“The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6-8)

And yet we are admonished to persevere. Good advice in this 24th month of the pandemic when we are all tired of the way things are. We want an end to this and a return to normal. Are we there yet?

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