Summary: James features on works showing our faith NOT works driving our faith
Story: One man I admire greatly is Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941).
Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest, who was put in a Nazi concentration camp for his faith.
On May 28, 1941, he was transferred to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. During his time there, he would share his meagre rations of food with those around him - who were hungry.
One day a man in Kolbe’s block escaped. All of the men from that block were brought out into the hot sun and made to stand there all day with no food or drink.
At the end of the day, the man that had escaped was not found and so Fritsch, the Nazi commandant told the prisoners that ten men would be selected to die - in the starvation cell - in place of the one that had escaped.
One of those ten selected was a polish sergeant (Francis Gajowniczek). He begged to be spared because he was worried that his family would not be able to survive without him.
As he was pleading with the commandant, Maximilian Kolbe silently stepped forward. The commandant turned to him and said asked,
"What does this Polish pig want?"
Kolbe pointed to the polish sergeant and said, "I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children."
The commandant stood silent in disbelief for a moment. He then allowed the sergeant to go back to his place in the ranks and Kolbe took his place in the starvation bunker.
Each day the guards used to remove the bodies of those who had died. However instead being greeted by the usual sounds of screaming, all they would hear was the sounds of Kolbe and the others in the bunker singing hymns and praying.
When Kolbe could no longer speak due to
hunger and lack of energy, he would whisper
At the end of two weeks, the cell had to be cleared out for more prisoners. Only four prisoners were left alive and Kolbe was one of them.
The guards came in and gave each a lethal injection and on August 14, 1941, Kolbe paid the ultimate price for following his Master.
Kolbe showed his faith in Jesus by the way he lived and died.
He walked the walk – he didn’t just talk the talk!
And practical faith one of the main features of the book of James from which our first reading was taken.
But the book of James has had its critics.
The Great German Reformer Martin Luther called it a “book of straw” because he saw James as standing for justification by “Good Works” against Paul who proclaimed a Gospel of Faith rather than a Gospel of Works
But actually St Paul does speak of the importance of good works in the life of faith when he says (in Ephesians 2:8-10)
For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is God’s gift. It is not from works so that no one can boast: for we are his formation, created as we are in Christ Jesus for GOOD WORKS which God previously prepared for us to enjoy life in them (Eph 2:8-10 Berkley)
If you read James carefully you will see there is no dichotomy between James’ Gospel, and Paul’s Gospel.
Both are Gospels of faith.
James fleshes it out by saying that works result from your faith.
What do we know about the book of James?
Who wrote it?
To whom was it addressed?
It is generally accepted in the Early Church that James was the brother of Jesus who became the leader of the Jerusalem Church before his martyrdom in AD 62.
It was the same James who gave the definitive judgement at the first Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.
The only other contender was James, one of the inner Three of the 12 apostles who was martyred in AD 44 and so really could not have been the author.
2. His readership
James in his epistle is speaking to Jewish believers.
You see this most clearly in Jas 2:1 where he says:
1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.
And you also see the Jewishness of both writer and audience in some of the phrases James uses for example in Jas 5:4 where he uses the Hebrew title Kyriou sabaoth (the Lord Almighty ort Lord of hosts) when referring to God
3. Jesus and James
There is also a strong link between James teaching and Jesus teaching, for instance James says
8If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself," you are doing right.
One can see echoes of Jesus words in Mt 22:36-40 where Jesus said . 39And the second (commandment) is like it: ’Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."