Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven (James 5:13-15, NRSV).
My country, Grenada, recently experienced what was called its first Covid-19 wave. With no community spread, we had no local deaths for all of 2020; however, between August to October 2021, the country succumbed to the Delta variant which left over 190 persons dead, and hundreds hospitalised. At the height of the recent unprecedented cases of morbidity and mortality, the churches and the Government of Grenada called for two days of national prayer. Although I support prayer to God at all times, I was convinced that God had already provided the answer to our prayers, and what we needed was not supplication but compliance and responsible human action.
When we pray to God, how do we expect God to respond? Do we expect God to come down, Godself and wipe away the virus? No, God works in and through that which God has created and placed at our disposal in nature. This is the case in the account we have in James 5.
James says if we are in trouble, we should pray. There is a lot in this passage that needs unpacking which we cannot do here now, like, for instance, “is the prayer of elders more efficacious than those of other believers?” and how do we understand the phrase “this prayer made in faith will heal the sick; the Lord will restore them to health, ….” There is a lot that is assumed in the passage, though not expressed. I do want to focus on verse 14 where James said, “Are any among you sick? They should send for the church elders, who will pray for them and rub olive oil on them in the name of the Lord” (Jas 5:14).
This passage in James shows how the church combined the medicinal and the religious. The elders of the Church represented the religious, and the olive oil represented the medicinal. Olive oil was part of every aspect of the lives of the people in biblical Israel. According to the authors of Life in Biblical Israel, King and Stager, Olive Oil was used as “a dietary staple, medicine, and fuel for ceramic lamps; as a base for cosmetics, perfumes, and oils; and in ritual contexts such as the anointing of kings at their coronation, as libation offerings, and as fuel for sanctuary lamps.”
Thomas Lancaster in a piece entitled “Anointing with Oil” said that “In the medicinal lore of the Talmud, an application of olive oil is recommended for a whole host of disorders. Anointing with oil was a common, homeopathic remedy, [and] Olive oil was thought to have a medicinal effect on wounds, to be a cure for invalids, Sickness, and even bowel problems …. Anointing with oil provides general health benefits to its users.”
Oil was used in a medicinal manner to aid in the recovery of the sick, and it was applied by the religious leaders of the community. The Covid-19 vaccine is a prophylaxis provided through God-given knowledge and elements found in nature. I concede that in some cases, the vaccine does not prevent sickness, but it does reduce morbidity and decreases the possibility of mortality. Religious leaders have the responsibility to bring to bear both the spiritual and other resources available for healing. To do otherwise is to renege on our responsibility to care for the whole person.
It is unfortunate that some have seen accepting the efficacy of the vaccine and participating in the national vaccination drive as compromising their faith. May God give us all wisdom and patience as we work together, church and civil authorities, to do what is in the best interest of all for God’s glory and the good of His people.
 Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001. P. 97.
 D. Thomas Lancaster. Anointing with Oil: Is anointing the sick with oil supposed to be a spiritual/ritual act? Anointing with Oil | Discover | First Fruits of Zion (ffoz.org)
The Rev. Dr. R. Osbert James, OBE, is the minister and moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Grenada. He is married to Anna, and the father of Jonathan and Chrystal
“There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many your offences are and how great your sins are. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” —Amos 5:10-15
One of the Lectionary offerings for this week, Amos 5:10-15, has remained a most provocative text. The Shepherd of Tekoa’s harsh words have become even more poignant as humanity struggles with the dis-ease caused not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but by the levels of pain, marginalization, and injustice that still exist. Truth has become elusive and conditional, in fact, truth has been twisted and trampled (v 7), the innocent remain oppressed, bribery and corruption stalk the hallways, and those with the privilege of voice, in the name of prudence, remain silent because the proverbial times are evil.
Amos was not a typical or career prophet, but he received a peculiar message for the people of the Northern Kingdom. His onslaught of words in Bethel addressed not only the people of Israel but challenged the neighbouring nations. His words were penetrative and tough to hear as his soul got angry because of the constant oppression and dehumanization of the poor and dispossessed. Amos recognized and condemned the many crimes of war, and he was strident in denouncing the atrocities and suffering of the people as nations ravished each other. The images of fire, ripped open pregnant women, the enslavement of people, the killing of relatives, and the general gruesomeness seem harsh for our ears and imagination today.
However, some of these realities dwell within the underbelly of who we are as Caribbean and North American people. Deeds of evil allow for the dispossession, racism, discrimination, and disparity which mar our societies. For a long time, people have been suffocating under the weight of oppressive systems that prevent access to good health care, proper housing, equal educational and employment opportunities, and the enjoyment of life in its fulness. These have all become magnified in the current time.
The Prophet warned the people of Israel that they would be chastised as they worshipped false gods, yet they expected Yahweh to protect them. Israel and Samaria would suffer great devastation unless there was repentance. Spiritual poverty echoed in the words ‘The Lord has said that they don’t even know how to do right’ may still be our challenge today. Unfortunately, even when all was in decay and sorrow abound because the people did not know how to do right, they still rejected God.
Can the Prophet speak to us?
It was from this dark place that Amos called the people into a right relationship with God. The call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’ belong in our hearing and midst today. More persons need to purpose in their hearts to seek good. Simply put ‘ if you want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right’. Collectively, we must decry the actions of evil and cease the folly of denial and own the call to love good and maintain justice. Our souls must yearn for that which is good!
In your daily walk seek to do good, help to transform the darkness, announce works of hope, seek peace and pursue, provide a safe place for those in need, share table with the poor, welcome the stranger, embrace those who come empty and fill them with good things, support the weak kneed, and lift up the bowed down. Then and only then will we begin to glimpse Amos’ call to ‘Seek Good, Not Evil…Hate Evil, Love Good…Maintain Justice’.
Rev. Dr. Yvette Noble-Bloomfield is a Deputy General Secretary in the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. She has responsibilities for the Cayman Islands Regional Mission Council.
“And he said to them ‘whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:11)
There are things we wish Jesus never said. Like this. Our churches are full of people who have experienced divorce, and this doesn’t sound like good news. And yet this year Jesus teaching on divorce was the lectionary passage for the first Sunday in October – World Communion Sunday.
Of course preachers have to put such teachings in context. In Jesus time women were in an extremely vulnerable position. If a man divorced a woman, she could not hold property. She might have to beg on the streets or worse to stay alive. So Jesus strong words here need to be understood as being about the wellbeing of women, for they were the ones most affected by divorce.
More than that, this passage is paired with Jesus welcoming the children. Jesus points that unless we become like children (aware of our dependency) we can’t enter the Kingdom of God. Again Jesus is lifting up the most vulnerable, for children had very little power or status in Jesus time.
Jesus is also contrasting attitudes. The Pharisees who come to Jesus want to trap him with a legal question about whether divorce is permitted. Jesus basically says that attitude of legality won’t get you a good life. What is permitted isn’t always the same as what helps human community flourish.
We live at times so aware of our essential unity, the very thing we celebrate on World Communion Sunday. We experience beauty in nature – a heron rises from marshland and flies in front of us. We look into someone’s eyes and feel deep connection. Other times the newspaper and our common life in the church remind us of the brokenness in which we live. It can be so disillusioning, the human capacity to take sides and separate from one another.
Every year World Communion comes around and every year we are reminded we have much to learn. How it is more important to value relationship than to be right. How our egos cling to things that only serve to separate us from one another. And how the grace and love of God for all creatures, all people is offered to us. Again and again.
“What God has joined together, let no one separate.” We hear these words as “wedding words” but Jesus was speaking his theology here. We are all joined together, interdependent. We have so much to learn about how this is so, and what is asked of us that we might reflect God’s desire for us – for us to claim and live this essential unity.
“And people will come from east and west, from north and south, and sit at table in the Kingdom of God” In a world of such brokenness, we live in hope.
Reverend Dr. Helen Nablo is a pastor in the United Church of Christ. She has served churches in both the PC(USA) and the UCC, and is currently Interim Pastor at Pilgrim Church in Harwich Port, Massachusetts. She lives by the ocean in Plymouth Massachusetts, where she walks and gives thanks for living in such a beautiful place.