Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.
In these verses James calls on Scripture passages that would be familiar to his readers. We hear echoes of the songs of Hannah (1 Sam 2) (also sung by Mary in Luke 1), as they, humble though they are, are buoyed by promises of a child who would be dedicated to God. They sing of being raised up, while the rich and powerful are brought down – the balance of power is shifted as God favours the poor. But going further, James also wants the rich believers to boast of being brought low – to cast off the privileges of being rich in human terms. We see the rich compared to flowers of the field in echoes of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 103, where the transient nature of a plant (and a person) is contrasted with the everlasting love of God. The withering of the field also brings to mind the fate of the seed sown on rocky ground in the Parable of the Sower. James thus grounds his letter, before demanding more from his readers, just as Jesus called for followers to go beyond the law.
But how do we keep ourselves from withering away in the midst of our busy lives? Many of us feel the need to be busy, even as the pandemic led to a pause in activity for many. We can turn back to Isaiah 40 – ‘the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.’
Long after the ‘to do’ list has faded, the word of our God will stand, and as in Psalm 103: 17, ‘the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.’
Many found comfort in lockdown through regular prayer at set times each day – building the rhythm of prayer and praise that will provide a firm foundation for our faith. Let us not allow this to wither as life starts to get busy again, and make sure that walking the way of Jesus today is the most important and urgent thing on the to do list.
Father, help us to put aside our busyness and to rest in your everlasting and steadfast love, knowing that you love us unconditionally, and that you are with us as we do our best to walk your way. Amen
The Rev’d Sue Cossey, NSM and Synod Pastoral Advisor, Bristol area. Member of Zion United Church, Frampton Cotterell