James: In Wisdom (The Way to Up is Down)
The other day I vented my frustration about a work situation. I was angry that someone that I was professionally acquainted with seemed to be getting all of the breaks, while others (including myself, of course) had to slog it out for the scraps that might periodically fall from the table of real or imagined success. We always seemed to be looking up. Waiting for whatever opportunity might come wafting down while this other person had a fast track to prime seating at the table. It was frustrating and I was jealous.
I feel uncomfortable with the word “meekness”. It seems to me to connote weakness, servility, and a soft quality of character. And yet, in his book to the Jewish Christians outside of Palestine, James, the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, calls for those who follow Jesus to “show (their) works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13) The ESV translates the word “meekness” from the Greek “prautes”, which is used in Galatians as “gentleness”, a fruit of the spirit to be cultivated.
To put it mildly, Jesus doesn’t live life the way that other people do. It’s amazing that Jesus, of one being with the Father and his Holy Spirit, would so diligently and methodically put into practice a “turning upside down” of social orders through healing, touching the unclean, confronting oppressive power structures (in rich and poor alike), and calling outcasts to repent of/turn away from sin and follow him in this same way of life. A meekness in the Lord of the Universe, through whom all things hold together.
There is a gentleness in Jesus’ character that is completely at odds with the world’s way of thinking. There is a depth to his wisdom that can never be plumbed but that the reward of practicing to do so will yield everlasting benefits. There is no “getting ahead” or “beating people out” for this or that opportunity but rather a focus on the weak, lowly and oppressed.
May our own lives be marked by the practice of a gentle wisdom.
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”
James 3:16-17 ESV