September 30th: “Powered by Prayer”

This Week’s Passage: Second Reading James 5:13-20

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope:

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, September 30thin Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

13-14 – Are not all people in trouble? Do not all have reasons to be happy? Do not all people have some illness?

15a – Danger: God is not a slot machine. Don’t expect to insert one prayer and receive healing. See 2 Cor 12:7-9. God may choose to raise us up in ways that we don’t anticipate. Thus I typically end the prayers for the people: “May God work wonders in them and in us beyond what we dream and hope.”

14 – I give Ruling Elders upon completion of active service a small vial of oil to carry with them to remind them of this healing ministry.

15b – Have not all people sinned (see 1 John 1:8 & Romans 3:23-24)?
Forgiving of sins is the beginning of healing.

16 – Since all have sinned and all need healing, all should confess their sins and all will receive healing in the forgiveness of their sins. This is 2nd person plural, thus should not be perceived as applying only to the person who has sinned (3rd person singular in 15b).

17-18 – What limitations have we set for the possibilities of God working in our lives?

19-20 – Not only should we pray for one another, we should be receptive to those who seek to correct the error in our lives. Yet correcting the error of another needs to be done with humility and respect (see Luke 6:41-42).

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The book and particularly this and the preceding chapter contain exhortations towards appropriate moral behaviors.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Early Christian tradition assigns authorship to James the brother of Jesus. However the impeccable Greek and familiarity with Wisdom literature suggests a Hellenistic Jewish Christian rather than a Galilean. The socio-economic community addressed suggests a period late in the first century, after James martyrdom (AD 62). James’ Jewish heritage shows through his use of Old Testament Scripture rather than Jesus’ teachings. The author may be writing as a student of James of Jerusalem.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

1 Kings 17:1 is the prayer of Elijah that precedes the cessation of rain.

1 Kings 18:1 indicates that the cessation of the drought was preceded by the Word of the Lord coming to Elijah, rather than the words of Elijah coming to the Lord. But such is prayer. Although 1 Ki 18:42 implies Elijah praying at the cessation of the drought.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

15 & 20 /swsei/ can be translated as either “to heal” or “to save.” In 16 James uses /iathete/ which is only used to mean “to heal.” The ambiguity of /swsei/ used in parallel with /iaqhte/ encourages us to hear salvation from sins as physical and spiritual healing.

17 – The Greek is /anthropos/ not /andros/. Thus the proper translation is “human” (NRSV) or “person” not “man” (NIV).

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • This book is addressed universally to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” presumably this means refers spiritually to the whole Church. Beyond this introductory verse, the book has no resemblance to a letter. The book is a collection of proverbs. Other than a few references to his audience as “Christians,” there is little in the book that makes this document uniquely Christian.
  • James principly describes works that demonstrate the faith of the Christian. In doing so it provides a corrective of a misinterpretation of Paul’s theology as salvation through faith alone and as a corrective to Gnosticism. James’ insistence that good works are an essential sign of faith is consistent with Matthew 7:15-24 and Luke 43-47.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: In all things, pray for the forgiveness of sins, and you will be healed.
  • Emotional Center: Why should a person pray?
  • Music: “Sweet Hour of Prayer” HB #398

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Verses 13- 15 suggest that those who sin or are sick should pray, but 16 jumps to the point that we should pray for each other. That is everyone should pray, therefore everyone has some sin/illness to pray for healing.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The opening verses invite hearers to say, “Yes, that’s me.” And then ask, who is praying for me.
  • Although modern medicine can treat the root cause of disease (microbial infections, cancer, …), the ritual of communal prayer for forgiveness continues to heal from sin, which aggravates disease.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

R.A. Martin (Augsburg Commentary: James. 1982.) suggests “that James did not hold the general rabbinical view that all sickness was the result of a person’s sins …” although “Jesus and/or his disciples held the view that in some cases sin and sickness may be related …” He concludes: “yet a truth is reflected in this ancient view – there cannot be complete health of body and mind until a person is in a right relationship with God.”

Luke T. Johnson (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Letter of James”. 1998.) contrasts James empowering the sick to call for the Elders to pray over them with the natural order that would isolate the sick to reserve resources for the healthy, to preserve the community.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Communal prayer provides physical and spiritual healing.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Pray for one another that we might save and heal each other.

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