When many of us think of wisdom, in the context of church, we think of the Wisdom Literature (not the capital “W”) in the Old Testament. This is understandable but a little limited. Jesus drew on the tradition of the Old Testament Wisdom Literature and so did other New Testament writers. It wasn’t until I was tipped off to look for it that I found it in James.
James is one of those interesting books in the New Testament. It is the only one James wrote, it isn’t all that clear who it was to, “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1 NIV) isn’t exactly a postal address. It was loathed by Martin Luther. It is frequently used as a weapon in arguments about faith and action. All of these things I knew, and more besides, but it had really never struck me that it might fit into the Wisdom Literature tradition in any meaningful way; but it does.
The Lectionary juxtaposes Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23 with James 2:1-10, 14-17 and the commonalities become inescapable. I seem to recall one of my Old Testament professors giving us a working definition of wisdom literature of “advice or teaching on how to live a successful life.” I think that is pretty good and I also think it fits James pretty well.
This section of James highlights two incompatibilities, namely how faith is incompatible with favouritism, and also how faith is incompatible with indifference. The first one is obvious to anyone who reads the first part of James 2, the second was a different take on the rest of the Lectionary reading. I’ll leave it to you to listen and let me know if I made a sufficiently compelling case.