Letter to everybody from James cut in pieces for today’s reading . . .

Letter of James chapter 1, today’s 2nd reading, is a quite expurgated selection, bowdlerized, severely edited, censored so as neither to offend nor reward pious ears.

Dearest brothers and sisters: All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. (verses 17 & 18)

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. (21b-22)

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (27)

Not quite nothing to reward: The last, oft-quoted paragraph is a stand-alone gem. Same for the “Be doers” ‘graph. But what’s left out is revealing.

For instance, vv. 19b-20, about habits of deliberation, in the Ronald Knox version:

You know this, my beloved brethren, well enough. It is for us men to be ready listeners, slow to speak our minds, slow to take offence; man’s anger does not bear the fruit that is acceptable to God.

Ready listeners. Slow to speak. Slow to take offence! Hits home. A great point by James, but left out.

Then v. 26, about knowing when to say nothing, again per Knox version:

If anyone deludes himself by thinking he is serving God, when he has not learned to control his tongue, the service he gives is vain.

Now the conclusion, v. 27, as in the day’s reading above, as Knox turned it:

If he is to offer service pure and unblemished in the sight of  God, who is our Father, he must take care of orphans and widows in their need, and keep himself untainted by the world.

Knox has the better translation, in my book. But going beyond that to the substance of James, when you preface v. 27 about orphans and widows with v. 26 about controlling the tongue, we gain a perspective.

James makes one equal to the other. Both he says are essential to serving God. So know when to keep your mouth shut while helping the needy. The courtliness of St. James requires it.

St. James, pray for us.

Mark, chapter 6: The dance, the promise, the beheading

John the Baptist, model of conscience.

Spoke truth to power, as many self-righteous of this day claim they do, when they know nothing of the kind of power he faced, autocratic, middle eastern, first-century A.D., rule by whim of ruler.

Herodias the trophy wife gave the word to her dancing daughter, voluptuous, tempting, the coolest of chicks. Her stepfather Herod, a potentially decent sort, got lassoed. Had been drinking, the kid got to him (and his hangers-on, watching his every move), he promised the world or half of the part he controlled (I said POWER). The fool.

The angry mother told her. The head. She told the fool in charge, gulp. He liked John, liked to listen to him. John used the occasions not to butter him up but to admonish him. He was not going to back down, knew what was right and what was his duty. Very gutsy guy. Went with his conscience, angered the spiteful woman.

Now what? The others are looking at him. He had promised, had he not? What kind of king was that whose promise meant nothing? He swallowed hard. Turned to the hatchet man (not a figure of speech, as we use the phrase today), said get the head. Hurry up, chop-chop.

The daughter, learning how things are done, took the head on a platter (not figurative), and the mother smiled.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.