Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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JAMES - Chapter 5

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James 5

Supplemental Commentary:

IV.  SPECIAL ADMONITION  4, 1 -- 5, 6 (continued)

5, 1-6:  The Unjust Rich.  According to the more common view St. James in these verses denounces the rich pagans who cruelly and unjustly mistreated the Christians; but his condemnation of riches can apply also to the rich Christians guilty of similar crimes (cf. 2).    2.  Weep and howl, etc.: i.e., in anticipation of their future punishments.    3.  Last days probably refer to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem; many, however, see in them a reference to the Final Judgment.    5.  In the day of slaughter: according to the context the words are to be understood in the sense that, just as animals are fattened and prepared for slaughter, so the rich by over-indulgence and dissipation are simply preparing themselves for the day of reckoning when they shall become the victims of God's justice.    6.  The just: many understand "the Just One," and see here some allusion to the passion and death of Christ.  More probably the expression refers to the class of the just who offered no resistance.

Conclusion  5, 7-20

5, 7-12:  Patience in Affliction.  Here St. James returns to the theme of 1, 3-4.    7.  Be patient: i.e., be long-suffering till the final judgment.    8.  The Coming of the Lord is at hand: (cf. Matt. 24; 1 Cor. 16, 22), i.e., the day of the Second Coming.  Many Christians hoped it would be soon, but its time was not revealed even to the Apostles.    12.  A caution against he frequent vice of imprudent and unnecessary oaths (cf. Ex. 20, 7; Matt. 5, 34 ff).

5, 13-18:  Last Anointing, Confession and Prayer.    13.  God is the source of consolation, and Christians should commune with Him in prayer (1 Cor. 14, 15; Eph. 5, 19).    14.  According to the teaching of the Council of Trent (Sess. 14, c. 1), St. James promulgated here the sacrament of Extreme Unction.  Is any one among you sick: by "sick" is understood those laboring under a severe bodily infirmity, or in danger of death from sickness.  Let him bring in the presbyters of the Church: i.e., one of the priests.  In the name of the Lord: i.e., in the person of the Lord, or by the command and authority of Christ (cf. Mark 6, 13).    15.  The prayer of faith: i.e., a prayer which proceeds from faith and is grounded on the faith of the Church.  Will save: i.e., restore the sick man to health if it is expedient, or save his soul in the life to come (cf. Mark 16, 18).  And if he be in sins: understanding all kinds of sins some of which for some reason may not have been remitted by penance.    16.  There are three possible interpretations for the words confess, therefore, your sins to one another: (1) confess your offences against one another, and mutually ask pardon of each other; (2) confess your faults to one another for the purpose of seeking counsel and assistance by mutual prayer; (3) confession of sins in the sacrament of Penance.  Most Catholic authors believe that St. James here admonishes Christians to confess their sins to the priests in the sacrament of Penance.  Consequently, to one another is taken in the restrictive sense (cf. Rom. 15, 7; 1 Thess. 5, 11; Eph. 5, 21), i.e., "in accommodation to the subject matter of the precept, of such as are empowered to hear confession and bestow absolution" (MacEvilly).  Pray for one another: especially for sinners.  That you may be saved: the sense of the Greek is "that you may be healed."  Consequently, "pray for one another" for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness from God and the gift of final perseverance.

5, 19-20:  Conversion of a Sinner.    20.  Will save his soul from death: i.e., the soul of the sinner from spiritual death in this life, and eternal death in the life to come (cf. Matt. 18, 15 ff).  Will cover a multitude of sins: (cf. 1 Pet. 4, 8; Prov. 10, 12), i.e., the sins of the converted persons; "but indirectly reference is made to the sins of the man who exercises the good work of converting his neighbor; for, by this act of charity, he will obtain from God the remission of his own sins, or an increase of grace to persevere in justice, and the remission of the temporal penalties due to his sins already remitted" (MacEvilly).

Charles H. Pickar, O.S.A.

Confraternity Bible:

The Unjust Rich  1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl over your miseries which will come upon you.  2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.  3 Your gold and silver are rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you, and will devour your flesh as fire does.  You have laid up treasure in the last days.  4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who reaped your fields, which have been kept back by you unjustly, cry out; and their cry has entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts.  5 You have feasted upon earth, and you have nourished your hearts on dissipation in the day of slaughter.  6* You have condemned and put to death the just, and he did not resist you.

Patience in Affliction  7 Be patience, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.  Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient until it receives the early and the late rain.  8 Do you also be patient; strengthen your hearts; for the coming of the Lord is at hand.  9 Do not complain against one another, brethren, that you may not be judged.  Behold, the judge is standing at the door.  10 Take, brethren, as an example of labor and patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  11 Behold, we call them blessed who have endured.  You have heard of the patience of Job, and you  have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is merciful and compassionate.  12 But above all things, brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by the earth, or any other oath; but let your yes be yes, your no, no; that you may not fall under judgment.

Last Anointing  13 Is any one of you sad?  Let him pray.  Is any one in good spirits?  Let him sing a hymn.  14* Is any one among you sick?  Let him bring in the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.  16 Confess, therefore, your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be saved.  For the unceasing prayer of a just man is of great avail.  17 Elias was a man like ourselves, subject to the same infirmities; and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain upon the earth, and it did not rain for three years and six months.  18 He prayed again, and the heavens gave rain and the earth brought forth its fruit.

Conversion of a Sinner  19 My Brethren, if any one of you strays from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 he ought to know that he who causes a sinner to be brought back from his misguided way, will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.


6: Many translate "the Just One," and see here some allusion to the Passion and Death of Christ.  More probably the expression refers to the class of the just who offered no resistance.

14: According to the teaching of the Council of Trent (Sess. 14, c. 3) St. James promulgated here the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.  Presbyters: certainly here in the sense of "priests."