Today’s second reading, taken from the Letter of James, refers to a practice common in ancient Israel prior to the monarchies of Saul and David. The author of the letter said about the second coming of Jesus, “Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.” (Jas. 5:9)
After the Israelites settled in the Land of Promise, religious and legal matters were supervised by members of the tribe of Levi. When a legal dispute arose, the local Levite would gather with the men of the village to discuss and resolve the matter. These gatherings were held at the gates of a city or entrance to a village. City gates were the gathering places of choice because they provided enough space for a large group and sufficient distance from marketplaces and other activities that productive conversations could occur.
When the Letter of James says, “Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates,” the Resurrected Lord is being likened to one of the ancient Israelite judges whose responsibility it was to instruct people in the requirements of faithful religion and to settle disputes among neighbors.
This public gathering of townsfolk with their resident Levite is a practice foreign to our culture, but our culture has some analogous practices. Any mother who has ever said to a child, “Wait until your father gets home!” has expressed a sentiment similar to what the author of the Letter of James intended when he compared Jesus to one of the ancient Israelite judges. It used to be common at this time of year to cajole children into appropriate behavior by warning them that Santa knows “who’s been naughty or nice.” The appeal to Santa’s list is similar to the Letter of James’ appeal to the ancient judges’ practice of discerning between right and wrong
The author of the Letter of James was instructing readers to be prepared for the Second Coming of the Lord because He will judge between people, pass judgment on sin, and render justice for a universe burdened by evil. There are many injustices I would like to see redressed on that great Day.
I think it’s incredibly unjust that Vladimir Putin bombs hospitals, libraries, and private homes under the guise of ‘liberating’ Ukraine from its validly elected government. I’m very bothered by the on-going violence in our country directed against individuals, groups, ethnicities, and most recently, a large swath of electrical utility customers in North Carolina. Racism and intolerance make me grieve over the baseless pettiness that people freely choose to direct at one another. These are only some of the items on my list of lamentable aspects of life in this world. I’m very eager to see these and other injustices redressed when the Lord returns, but I am not the only person who feels this way.
Each of you has your own list of what you consider to be unjust, unfair, evil, or destructive. Everyone else on the planet has a similar list. Often, I hear people complain about the vagaries of aging, the injustice of crime, or the sadness of death and loss. Notably, some people seem to find solace amid their suffering, while others do not. The Letter of James gives us insight into why some people are able to live constructively despite injustice while others are overwhelmed by it.
The Letter of James compared the Risen Lord to the ancient Israelite judges so that we would know how to receive justice from God. Those who wished to plead a cause went out to the city gates where the local Levite waited to hear such cases. Only those who went to hear instruction from the Levites could be guaranteed justice. In a similar manner, only those who hope to be judged by the Risen Lord can expect to receive justice on the Last Day. Those who go out to greet the Lord will be greeted by Divine justice; those who absent themselves from Jesus’ company forfeit justice.
God promises justice to us, but justice does not come merely because we want it or pursue it. Rather, Divine justice will be granted to those who are willing to wait for it. Those who take justice into their own hands, or rely their own power, or try to force their opinions on others will be disappointed. Those who allow God to judge right from wrong, good from evil, and faithfulness from faithlessness will never be disappointed because true justice comes from God alone.
The Just Judge of the world stands ready to remedy evil, to heal the world’s wounds, and to bring justice upon the earth. We can be assured of a just judgment from God if we are willing to wait patiently for God to accomplish God’s work of redemption. The Letter of James says, “You must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (Jas. 5:8) It is God’s work to redeem the world; it is our work to live with hope and trust.