Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Today’s passage of Scripture is longer than usual, but it contains a single thread of thought. It is like a little letter all by itself:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
These words of James don’t take a lot of interpretation.
People have always been attracted to wealth and power. By befriending people with wealth and social standing, they hope to benefit in the form of gifts or opportunities to benefit their own status. This is the great power that wealthy people have… to manipulate the poor with false hopes. So, James does not want to see this behavior to be tolerated in congregations. If you welcome people according to outward appearances, you are being prejudiced in their favor.
I want to share with you the gist (or outline) of what James is teaching us:
a. Favoritism based on wealth or appearance is evil. Try to imagine a mother who judged her children solely by their yearly income. Imagine an employer who judged candidates only by the quality of their shoes or the color of their eyes.
b. The poor are often blessed with faith and many spiritual gifts.
c. The rich are often the people who cause you the most trouble.
d. If you truly love your neighbor, you are doing right, but if you judge by appearances and wealth, you are denying the value of poor people and breaking God’s law.
e. Breaking any of God’s laws has the same effect. The offense builds a wall between you, God, and your neighbors.
f. To treat all people in a loving way is a characteristic of mercy. If you are merciful, you treat the poor as well as you are able.
g. If you are merciful, the law is not held against you.
Think of those last words that James says today: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Think of how strongly James proclaims this. Prejudice closes the heart to mercy, but mercy is essential. Prejudice is a destructive state of mind that convicts you, but mercy brings healing and wholeness.
James is fond of saying that faith without works is dead, but we can infer that love without mercy is not God’s love. To put it in a positive way, mercy is what Christian love looks like.
Questions to Ponder: Why do the ultra-wealthy (of all political persuasions) work so hard to manipulate the poor at the same time they keep them in a state of poverty? How can a congregation become known for its mercy (as a sign of God’s love)?