Note: I’ve included in this post Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of chapter 5 to help provide context. His commentary on the Sunday reading follows. The text he is commenting on is taken from the Douay Rheims Translation, however, he also offer an interpretive paraphrase of the text, and I’ve included this paraphrase in blue script, followed by his notes.
ANALYSIS OF CHAPTER 5: In this chapter, St. James denounces against the hard-hearted rich, the heaviest punishments in the life to come, on account of their crimes and cruelties towards the poor (1). These cruelties he enumerates. First—Their hard-heartedness was such, as to suffer their wealth to rot, sooner than give it to the poor (2), and their money to rust, sooner than dispense it: the consequence of which is, that they will suffer the severestpunishments (3).
The next crime he charges them with is, defrauding the labouring poor of their hire, one of the most iniquitous means of amassing riches (4). He then charges them with leading luxurious and debauched lives, pampering themselves in delicacies, like cattle destined for slaughter (5). And finally, he charges them with committing the most heinous crime, of persecuting unto death, innocent just men; and, as an aggravating circumstance of their injustice, he states, that these were unable to make resistance (6).
Turning to the poor and persecuted, he exhorts them to patience by several considerations such as the near approach of the Lord—the example of the husbandman, who patiently endures hardships in hopes of the distant harvest (7-8). He cautions them against murmurings (9), and consoles them by the examples of the prophets of old, and especially by the example of Job. He prohibits rash swearing.
He promulgates the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (14, 15). He exhorts them to the confession of their sins, and to prayer for one another, and he adduces the example of Elias, as an instance of efficacious prayer (16-19). Finally, he points out the great merit of converting sinners from their evil ways.
Jas 5:7 Be patient therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth: patiently bearing till he receive the early and latter rain.
Do you, on the other hand, afflicted poor, who are the objects of this unjust treatment, bear it with enduring patience, until the coming of the Lord to judgment, when you will receive and unfading crown. With the prospect of this reward before you, follow the example of the husbandman, who waits for the fruits of the earth, from which he is to derive sustenance; in expectation of it, he patiently continues his labors, awaiting the early rain, which irrigates the earth after the seed is committed to it, and the latter, which ripens the crop.
St. James now points out the duty of the oppressed, and offers them consolation under affliction. The first consoling consideration which he proposes is, “the coming of the Lord,” which is understood by some to refer to his coming at the destruction of Jerusalem; others, more probably, refer it to his coming at the general judgment, when both soul and body shall be glorified. The last day is frequently proposed in sacred Scripture, as a subject of consolation to the just, when under persecution. Both interpretations may be united; for, both events were associated in the minds of the Jews, as appears from the mode, in which our Redeemer details the circumstances of one and the other, in the gospel. The straits to which the Jews were reduced at the capture of Jerusalem, might be regarded as a fair type of the anguish, in which the reprobate shall be involved, on the dreadful day of judgment. “Behold, the husbandman,” &c. The next consideration which St. James proposes to console them is the example of the husbandman, who patiently waits for ”the fruit of the earth;” “precious,” because procured by great labour; and also because it supplies him with bread, the most necessary part of human food. “Patiently bearing.” In Greek, μακροθυμων επ αυτω, long suffering for it, viz., the expected fruit.
“Till he receive the early and latter rain.” The word, rain, is not in the Vulgate, nor in the Vatican MS.; it is found in some Greek copies. And the words “early” and “latter” refer to the rain; the early to that which irrigated the earth, after the sowing of the seed; this fell in Palestine towards the end of October—and the “latter,” to the harvest rain, by which the crops were ripened; this fell about the middle of April. St. James calls them, “early and latter,” looking upon the interval that elapsed between the sowing of the seed in October (the morning), and the gathering of the harvest about the middle of April (the evening), as one day, the end of which the husbandman was, with care and toil, anxiously looking for.
Jas 5:8 Be you therefore also patient and strengthen your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
You should, therefore, after his example, amidst the trials of this life, patiently expect the fruits of eternal life and the consoling effusion of divine grace, and strengthen your hearts against all temptation to impatience or despair; for the coming of the Lord is not far distant.
St. James exhorts them to persevere, after the example of the husbandman, in patiently enduring evils and miseries, until they receive the never-fading crown of eternal life, for which the abundant effusion of divine grace (“the early and latter rain,”) will dispose them. “Strengthen your hearts” against all temptations to impatience or despair; “for the coming of the Lord is at hand,” because the day ofjudgment virtually takes place for each one, at death.
Jas 5:9 Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.
Do not fretfully indulge in murmurings and rash judgments against one another, lest you should be, in turn, condemned. For, the judge is near at hand, to pass sentence of condemnation upon you.
under afflictions and persecution, against murmuring in regard to one another, or”Grudge not, brethren, one against another.” St. James cautions them, while fretfully misjudging, or envying one another, a state of feeling apt to spring from the pressure of persecution and misery. As a motive for avoiding this, and for practising the opposite virtue of patience, he proposes the fear of being condemned by God. ” Behold the judge standeth before the door,” a form of expression frequently employed in Sacred Scripture, to intimate the near approach, or immediate presence of a person. Here, it is used with a view of cautioning them against incurring judgment and condemnation, on account of their murmurings and impatience; for, the jutlge is near to condemn them; or, perhaps, by it is meant to encourage them to overcome impatience, at the prospect of the rewards which the Judge, who is near, will render them. The phrase has the same meaning as the words in verse, 8, “for the coming of the Lord is nigh.” Some understand the words, of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and the total dispersion of the Jews by the Romans, The former interpretation, which extends to all times, appears, however, far the more probable.
Jas 5:10 Take, my brethren, for example of suffering evil, of labour and patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Take, my brethren, for examples to stimulate you to the patient and persevering suffering of evils and afflictions, the prophets, who have gone before you into bliss, who have not been freed from sufferings, notwithstanding their high commission, of reclaiming sinners in the name and authority of the Lord, or of predicting future events.
St. James stimulates them to the patient endurance of evil by the example of
the prophets, who preceded them; they could not reach heaven, without first passing through the ordeal of suffering, notwithstanding the high and exalted commission they received from God. “An example of suffering evil, of labour, and patience.” In the Greek there are only two words, της κακοπαθειας και της μακροθυμια, of suffering evil and patience, or, rather, long suffering. Hence, the word, “labour,” must nave been inserted by some scribe, who, perhaps, finding in some copies, the Greek word translated, labour, in others, evil suffering, united both. This does not much affect the meaning of the passage. By “the prophets,” are meant the prophets of old, of whose sufferings mention is made in the Old Testament, and (Ep. ad Hebrews 11.) “Who spoke in the name of the Lord,” which may either mean, that they spoke to reclaim sinners, or, to predict future events; “in the name of the Lord,” i.e , by divine commission and authority. Hence, as the prophets, whose lot they envy, did not reach heaven, except in passing through the ordeal of suffering, they are not to expect happiness on easier terms.