Pentecost +18 - Year B
This passage makes it easy to confuse what it attempts to clarify.
What is not clear is the distinction between “suffering” and “sick”. Our tendency is to equate these.
Suffering is affliction from the outside and this falls in the great prophetic tradition of dealing with evil as a systemic reality, with a falling away from best community practices. Prayer, here is not a quietism. Note the example given of Elijah and the elements. Why was drought seen as a result of prayer? or rain? It was to address systemic injustice arising as a result of breaking communal care (think Ahab and Jezebel). Prayer is an open-eyed engagement with the principalities and powers. We do prayer an injustice in making it a solitary appeal for a deus ex machina to be engaged. Prayer is bold and confrontative. Prayer is not head-bowed petition as much as an in-your-face claim or affirmation.
While being sick can be too easily equated with a lack of faith, it is in contrast to suffering by its internal orientation—something we do to ourselves (even if expressed as hurting another) and its source is from the inside out. Here we look to models of community that elders and shamans from every culture engage to reset a person’s relationships that bring meaning and strength. Here, too, prayer is active, is anointing, dancing, purging, etc.
A grand model responding to both is restorative justice. That which harms others, be it systemic or personal, can be redeemed, restored. It is this restoration that measures prayer.
If we had these two better paralleled we might better see their connections and distinctions.
A difficulty or possibility in making this connection lies with how we engage blessings. How does song parallel prayer?
Were I advising James on his letter, I would ask for another word or two about prayer and singing. This expansion might unpack deeds entrusted to reset broken relationships/covenants. This extension might clarify faithful work that engages not only past contracts but new potentials arising out of subsequent experiences.
As we continue to learn more about insides and outsides, prayers and psalms, hopes and dreams — lift up your voice.