But Of Course
It had to happen. We are, obviously, in a study of James. THE James. Jesus’ little brother. Homeboy to Jerusalem. Of all the things I admire about James, it is his commitment to stay fixed in his ministry and location that I admire most. That is difficult to do. I can’t imagine the number of reasons and opportunities he must have known that would have provided him escape. But he stayed. We cannot know his motivation for doing so, but he didn’t leave.
So it had to happen. James writes with such a sharp practicality. You can’t squirm off the hook. No loopholes. In absence of “problem passages of interpretation,” scholars try to argue the legitimacy of his authorship or his motivation for writing such a letter. Some try to pit him in a war of words and doctrine with Paul. None of those distractions should derail you from the clear truth, the wisdom, the New Testament proverbs, and the exposition of his brother’s famous sermon from Matthew’s gospel, the Sermon on the Mount.
So it had to happen. The application of James I mean. I was in a hurry this past Monday. Trying to get out of town for a father-son trip with my 14 year old. It’s a tradition. When my boys turn 14, they get an all-expense paid trip with dad to some out-of-town location filled with conversation and their favorite activity.
This particular son won a trip to Kansas City to see two games between the last place Royals and the first place Cleveland Indians. We hung out with the players in the dugout as they took batting practice, enjoyed the air conditioned breaks in their clubhouse, checked out all their gear, and munched popcorn as we watched the game right behind home plate. It was baseball glory.
But that Monday before we left was filled with preparation. My wife allowed us to use her van so I cleared out her stuff and cleaned it as well as I could for the time given. I stopped by the store and stocked our little cooler with road-trip food. The last thing to do was fill it with gas, and we were good-to-go. That’s when I heard him. James, I mean. It just had to happen.
Three seconds before I jumped back into the van, having just returned the pump handle to its holding position, I heard a sweet little old lady say, “Excuse me sir.” Now I would love to tell you that I was immediately warm in my response. I would love to tell you that my reaction to her was oozing with patient attentiveness to her request. I would love to tell you that. Honestly, I had to muster every fiber of my being, and it took a moment. I knew what was coming, but there was a qualifying mention in her desperation that leveled me.
“Would you mind to help an old widow get back to Princeton?” Those were her exact words. For a second I chuckled. Surely this was some church member fresh from James 1 playing a joke on me. But I didn’t recognize her at all. Did I hear that right? Or was it James? She read my body language. “I’m very sorry to bother you.” She went on with some explanation, but all I heard was the verses from James 1 that for some reason speak the loudest to me personally: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.” That’s all I heard.
I’ve been alive for 53 years. Been driving since I was, well, very young. I’ve never been asked for help with gas while I was actually at a gas station, and I’ve never had a request for help of any kind qualified by the opening remarks of a widow. I don’t know if she was telling me the truth or not. It was just too bizarre, too “in your face” not to hear her request as one coming directly from James and the Lord Himself.
I couldn’t fill her car fast enough. I asked if I could pray for her, and she gladly took my hand in hers. Just a widow in distress for gasoline, a small interruption for my good. But of course, it had to happen.