Keeping It Real: Lectionary Themes for the Month of September
By Patricia Datchuck Sánchez and Rafael Sánchez Alonso
While the Hebrew scriptures offer a prelude to Jesus’ coming as the Savior of humankind, and the Gospels show us the faith of the earliest believers in Christ, the letters of the Christian scriptures address how believers experience Jesus and live out their commitment to him in their daily lives. This month, our brother James will prove to be a most challenging mentor.
According to the online Urban Dictionary, the phrase “keeping it real” means being honest; being true to one’s values; doing the right thing at all times, despite all that would tempt one to do otherwise. In each of September’s second readings, James will move us forward in the lifelong process of integrating faith and life. To put it another way, James will come to our aid as we face the demands of the Gospel; he will help us to keep it real.
On September 2, James tells us: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Ever the practical leader, James will also insist that true and honest religion is to care for orphans and widows. In James’ day, neither orphans nor widows were regarded as having any rights of their own. Keeping it real, therefore, means that giving care and protection to God’s voiceless ones — i.e., displaced refugees, undocumented immigrants, victims of war, etc. — is to become the agenda of those who profess to believe in Jesus.
James’ challenge on September 9 will address the human penchant for prejudice and partiality. In his letter, he criticizes his contemporaries for judging others by their appearance or possessions. James might also have something to say about racial profiling, maltreatment of the poor and blaming victims for their unfortunate situations. Here, as elsewhere throughout James’ missive, echoes of Jesus’ Great Sermon can be heard: “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt 7:1).
Mid-month (Sept. 16), James calls for the daily and deliberate integration of faith and service. Such wholeness and holiness result from allowing our works to reflect our faith, and our faith to be the impetus for our works. When faith and works mesh in a spiritual and practical symbiosis, the mission of the community of believers can go forward. Faith professed becomes faith lived when we back up our kind words and good intentions regarding the poor with our practical efforts on their behalf. James will go so far as to say that faith in itself, if it doesn’t have works, is dead. Rather than succumb to death by hypocrisy or by dichotomy, believers are to strive for a harmonious, honest expression of their beliefs in all they say and do, and in all they refrain from saying and doing. “Do unto others whatever you would have them do to you,” said Jesus (Matt 7:12). This same principle was at the heart of James’ exhortations.
Scholars suggest that the demands of the Great Sermon also inspired James’ call for peace, not war, on September 23. Instead of just attributing war to conflicting political ideologies, James traced the seeds of war and violence to the human heart. Where jealousy and ambition are allowed free reign, conflict is inevitable. But where the wisdom of God is allowed to enter and grow, there will the seeds of peace be cultivated. If the would-be architects of the contemporary political landscape were wisdom-seekers rather than power-mongers, peace might stand a chance, even in such hot spots of injustice like Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan or Uganda. Always keeping it real, James admits that the establishment of true peace is possible only when believers work in cooperation with one another and, together, pray for God’s help. Ask for it, he advises, because true peace, like true wisdom, comes from above. Those who apprentice themselves to God will thereby learn sincerity, peacemaking, gentleness and justice. Gifts from God such as these have the capacity to be more contagious than violence, hatred and war! It is the responsibility of every believer to keep making God’s gifts real in our lives.
Our month of mentoring by James will conclude on September 30 with a challenge to keep it real in regard to our earthly wealth and possessions. Like the Spanish proverb that reminds us, “There are no pockets in a shroud,” and the radio evangelist who asked, “Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul?” James reminds us that riches are not portable beyond the grave. Those blessed with surplus — or even sufficiency — of this world’s goods are responsible for sharing their possessions to alleviate the needs of others. Keeping faith real means serving the poor, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, reaching out to prisoners of every sort and working for justice for all. By keeping their faith real, believers offer praise to God, and thereby pile up treasure that endures unto eternity.