Yes, the gospel’s challenging message is hard. It is in opposition to the logic of the world. It takes humility to listen to, and to come to understand, the message of Jesus.
This message is so clear, so true, and so difficult. To be quick to hear the gospel message is to accept it readily. It is also to begin to act in accord with it, getting rid of whatever is within us that opposes it. To listen to it, but then not live in accord with it, is to remain a slave to sin. Only conformity to the gospel, which is the perfect law of God that leads to true freedom, will bring us the happiness we desire.
The advice given by James here is appropriate in all aspects of our lives. We live in a time where public discourse has seemingly lost all sense of decorum, or civility. It seems our difficulties with one another are governed by very base principles. Today it seems that whoever shouts the loudest wins, even if common sense and logic are completely absent from the argument. James’ advice to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, is advice that, if taken seriously, would go a long ways toward turning our all too often uncivil and accusatory “arguments” into reasonable exchanges that would serve to bring about real, positive and growthful reconciliation, rather than more division.
But in the case of the context of this passage, we are really being challenged to listen deeply to the gospel message. Why? Because it is the one, perfect way to both the happiness and the true freedom our hearts desire. We often find it hard to hold our tongues when something we hear does not fit within the present horizons of our knowledge, or understanding of the world. We tend to react quickly, both in words and in deeds. The truth is that we cannot listen at the same time that we are talking. Who is it that we are listening too in the gospel message? God, of course. It is a matter, then, of humility to be quick to listen and deliberately slow to speak. Certainly, we ought to be slow to anger. Anger simply closes and often locks the doors to communication. There is no possibility for growth in this. God is calling us in the gospel to grow, and it is true that growth is often painful.
Yes, the gospel’s challenging message is hard. It is in opposition to the logic of the world. It takes humility to listen to, and to come to understand, the message of Jesus. Even more so, it takes courage to live in accord with his message of self-giving love. Jesus has not just asked us, but “commands” us, to love in the same way as he did. We are, then, to be willing to give our all, yes, even to suffer for the good of the gospel message. We are to be willing to be the last in importance, instead of the first. We are called on to let go of all that separates us from the will of God and the promise of eternal life with him. This can cause some to become angry with the gospel message, because they are more enamored with earthly, human concerns, than with the concerns of God. But as Christians, we are to give ourselves over to the wisdom of God. We are being called to a higher vocation in the world. This is why we must learn to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For it is our deepest desire to achieve the righteousness of God, our Father.
Lord, increase in us the virtue of humility. Help us to honor you by listening to your wisdom, by coming to understand it through your grace. By your generous grace, encourage us to live humbly in accord with your will for us in our daily lives. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen!
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