Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. – James 5:13-20
The topic of today’s passage is community and caring for one another. This is an especially timely and important message as we enter another season of masks and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID. My sense from reading this letter is there may have been some social distancing going on among the believers and those they were called to care for and protect.
The caring for one another is taken to a potentially costly level as these believers are instructed to confess their sins to one another. The Catholic church has codified this practice with the confessional, but I am not sure that is exactly what James has in mind when he says “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” This sounds to me like a peer to peer praying and confession rather than a top down priest to parishioner activity.
Granted this level of vulnerability is really hard and requires great trust in one another and God to hear our prayers and petitions despite our flaws and imperfections. Let’s face it we are all flawed followers. So why do we feel self conscious sharing our flaws with one another? It requires authenticity and audacity to believe in a healing no matter how big the sin or sickness. This is what God wants of us – to be righteous and believe that God can heal any sickness or sin “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Does that mean immediate results from every prayer? I don’t think so.
James provides an example of a “righteous person” to emulate, Elijah. His prayers reached the Father of the rain and caused a 3 1/2 year drought. Then he prayed again and God gave Rain on a dry and dusty land. James is connecting Elijah praying for rain to bring about fruitful crops, and believers praying for one another to be filled with Living Water so that their lives are fruitful and produce healthy and effective fellow believers.
The last part of the passage suggests that we are to help one another when we get lost along our journey home. We are to act like lifeguards looking for those who are struggling to keep their heads above water and are in danger of giving up and drowning.
Then comes a surprising riffle. It seems that each time we successfully turn “a sinner from the error of their way” we are also in some sense saving ourselves. Perhaps the act of attempting a rescue reminds us of ways that we also are drowning and in need of help? Ultimately, we cannot save ourselves or anyone for that matter. The squalls in which we are foundering are fundamentally spiritual rather than secular. We need the ultimate lifeguard – the One who can walk on water to provide us a window between worlds. Only He can help us to cross the river no one can cross.
Prayer: God help us to care and pray for one another with humility and grace, even when doing so is hard and makes us vulnerable.