17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
A question I have often asked students to ponder is: Just because it is legal is it the right thing to do? Businesses and organisations spend much time checking their practices against the written law to ensure that what they are about to do is legal, is it covered by law and, therefore, are they covered by the law from responsibility for the outcome of their actions.
Unfortunately this often comes unstuck at some point when people begin to realise the gap between what the lawyers say and what their common sense response is. This is not right. Over the years we have seen this work out in terms of the Church and child abuse, governments and refugees, big business and such as mining and employee relations and more. We all can recall such stories and wonder at how this can happen.
The next question to students was ‘Just because you can do want you desire to, should you?’ This moves the question a little furher inward, away from the surface protection of the law and the outward justification for our actions.
Mark in his Gospel and James in the epistle reading remind us strongly that we can not rely on the law. In their settings, the law and he strict adherence to the words of the law was deemed to be sufficient for a good or righteous life. By simply endorsing the law verbally and in superficial practice ensured you were obeying the Torah as spoken by the religious leaders.
Jesus in Mark’s Gospel addresses the law which required people to follow an elaborate cleansing and table practice before eating, stipulating clearly what was appropriate – clean or unclean. Jesus says bluntly, what a load of old cobblers, don’t you blokes know anything? Food is just fuel for the engine and passes through and out when used up. It doesn’t make you unclean. It is what sits within you and is used to justify your words and actions that determines whether you are good or righteous and that is much more than a finely scripted law with all it’s accompanying fine print.
James reminds us that God (James 1:18) “gave us birth by the word of truth”. This often interpreted as referring to the Good News that came in the form of Jesus and became known after his death and resurrection. The New Testament as the word. Is it? In the prologue to Johns Gospel we hear, ‘In the beginning was the word’, and if we understand the word to refer to the Christ then the word of truth is spirit and has always been available to us. JesustheChrist, and we should always connect the man Jesus with the eternal Christ or anointed one, is the spirit in human terms and we hold the potential to emulate him because the spirit, the Christ is within.
Here we begin to read below the literal words and touch the potential within. Muslim scholar, Louis Massignon, who inspired Merton in the use of the phrase “le point vierge”, had written about how Mansur al-Hallaj (858-922) perceived the mysticism of the heart. According to this Suffi, when the heart is fully uncovered, what remains is the latent personality, the implicit consciousness called the sirr. For Hallaj and Massignon, the innermost secret heart (as-sirr) is “the virgin.” This most intimate centre of the heart is called a mystery, in which the creature meets his Creator. Al-Hallaj says, “Our hearts, in their secrecy, are a virgin alone, where no dreamer’s dream penetrates – the heart where the presence of the Lord penetrates, there to be conceived.”  Here is where the word of truth is to be found, not in the words interpreted on the surface, but the journey into the deep, to that place where both self and Spirit are one.
James continues by saying (James 1: 21b) ‘welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.’ What is the implanted word? It is the implanted Christ who has been present from the beginning in all created things. It does not come from an external reading but an internal journey. An external reading reads as if it is reading a legal document, analysing and interpreting the written word in such a way that it gives credence to our existence, our way of believing.
The implanted word, the reality of JesustheChrist, awaits our listening heart as we separate ourselves from our ego self and begin to take on the nature and form of the Christ. It is then that the seed planted deep within begins to flourish and live in such a way that our external actions and words can be described, as Paul said, ‘it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives within me.’
To arrive at such an understanding we must embark on a journey that is fraught with danger, challenges and the ever-present temptation to fall back into our ego selves. The temptations of Jesus after his Baptism reveals how subtle and constant those temptations are and we can only overcome them by meeting the Christ within naked and helpless, ready to relinquish the power over our lives to the implanted word of truth.
It is only then that we can (James 1:22)
‘be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.’ We kid ourselves if we only adhere to the formulas and the creeds that pass for rational belief. Formulas and creeds are but scaffolding by which we are to journey into the experienced truth. Dogma or right belief will not save us, only praxis or right practice will when we jettison the safety of the formulas and creeds, and open ourselves up to terrifying possibilities of a life lived solely in Christ.
We started with the question if it’s legal does it mean it is right and we can answer no because the law suffices only to cover up our failure to live from the centre. We also asked ‘Just because you can do want you desire to, should you?’ And we can also answer no if that desire is based on your ego self.
We are called by both Jesus and James to take the time to reflect on what we say and do and to ascertain its source. We are called to listen deeply to the implanted word, that virgin place within us and to let go of our practices and words born of culture, tradition and bias which do not resonate with the eternal Christ.
We can do this through meditative reading of the Bible and other spiritual texts, by reflective journaling and writing, by taking time out to do nothing but listen, by beginning spiritual practices such as morning prayer, silent retreats and others activities that get you in touch with the word within.
It will involve us moving past the literal in terms of our reading of the world and the Bible and to seek the presence of the spirit in all. When we begin to see more than what meets the inner senses we will begin to see more than what meets the outer senses. Our vision of ourselves and our world will change.
Jesus and James pose the challenge. Are we up for it?