Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. James 5:7-10 (NRSV)
The farmers were so eager to tell us about their lives, what they had achieved as part of the project supported by Lutheran World Relief, and what else they hoped to accomplish throughout the rest of the project. We were welcomed with song, dance, and camels to a gathering of farmers participating in the project in Tahoua, Niger, in West Africa. I sat in a chair under a canopy that shielded us from the bright Sahelian sun, me and the rest of my team, who were a mixture of US-based staff and staff working in our six African country offices. I squinted to get a better view of the farmers’ cooperative leader who was speaking and his French translator, both standing out in the sunshine and heat.
Amid the festive tone and the incredible hospitality, one message forever stands out to me. It was a refrain I heard over and over from different farmers and local partners, told in slightly different ways. Older members of the community remember clearly how their grandparents had two rainy seasons, and how the indicators of those seasons (the activity of insects, changes in cloud coverage) were relatively reliable to guide farmers about when to prepare their land and when to plant. Now there is only one inconsistent rainy season here, and the traditional indicators are not reliable; farmers make their best guesses about when to plant and patiently hope for the best. The technical advice around improved practices provided by our project team improve farmers’ chances, but ultimately they must "wait for the precious crop from the earth." Global changes beyond these farmers’ control require that they find new ways to be resilient.
James is a curious book in the New Testament in that it so closely ties heavenly themes like waiting for the coming of the Lord and divine judgment to our earthly interactions with one another. Weaving back and forth between heaven and earth, James tells the wealthy (in preceding verses) to stop exploiting the poor for their own material gain. Here James speaks to the oppressed poor, urging them to be patient for the coming of the Lord, and to treat each other well.
As Mary Foskett, Professor of Religious Studies at Wake Forest University, writes, “James reminds us that this liturgical season of preparation is also a season of repentance and penance that must take seriously the suffering in our midst. Waiting patiently for the day of the Lord is, as James’ entire letter suggests, a time for recognizing the values that shape our lives and communities and recalibrating them, as need be, so that they may be in accord with the wisdom that is from above.”
Lord, as I patiently prepare for your coming, show me how to take seriously the suffering in my midst. Help me to be a beacon of your mercy, grace, and love in the world. Amen.