Today’s Epistle reading in the Eucharistic Lectionary is from James Chapter 2:
My brothers and sisters, when you show favouritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favouritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges?
My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?
You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbour as yourself. But when you show favouritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. CEB
It seems to me that this is a tall order for us today. We have a real complex with showing honour and favouritism to those who already have much. What movie star, hockey legend, business superstar, favourite singer, etc, pays for much of anything in this world? Take the Oscars as an example. Last year’s swag bag was worth over $75 000. That’s correct folks – $75 000! How about swanky restaurants, exclusive clubs, private suites in sports arenas? Those who have so much are given so much more. It may be unjust and unfair, but it is the way of our society.
The danger here is that we read this pericope and think about the far off world of Hollywood or the haunts of the finest hotel. But what about our response to this epistle reading? Is it possible that we participate in this behaviour as well? Are we as excited or anxious to sit and eat with those who are down-and-out as we would be to chow down with a celeb? – Rhetorical question!
So this scripture is tough. It calls us to a high standard of behaviour and it is not a standard that is easy to attain to. The writer of James has laid out a very clear and specific idea of who this neighbour that we are called to love is. That neighbour is poor, rejected, dishonoured, broken, ill, unfinished, and often alone. The call of this epistler is to radical acceptance of those that are unacceptable by other standards.
What might that look like for us? Are there people that we can embrace that need our embracing? Does the possibility exist that we show favour to those who look good? Is it within the realm of possibility that we prefer those who have positions of power over the powerless? Do we want to be with the popular rather than with the so-called ‘loser?’ Again – all rhetorical questions? We know the answers. We also know that this form of behaviour has led to many a problem – in our schools, our families, our workplaces, our social circles, and dare I say it – even in our churches. The irony is that our favour means little to those who are in the seat of success, but to those who are hurting, our favour could mean so very much.
So how do we respond? We cannot all be Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But all of us, perhaps, can identify an opportunity to refuse to show favouritism. We all can pray to have our eyes opened and our ears perked to identify with the one who is rejected, broke, lonely, depressed, forgotten, ill, tormented, or hungry in the many ways in which one can hunger.
I have been guilty of showing favour to those who probably have no need for my favour. How about you? Now I must look to see where I could show love, hope, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, and embrace where it can make such a difference. How about you?
What’s very interesting Kevin, is that mine is the first comment on this blog. Very telling that we are all just passing this by. Long ago, when I felt the most alienated, cast aside, shunned was when I felt drawn to the other oddballs. The more ordinary I feel, the less eager I am to ‘sup sorrow with the poor’. That’s something for me to reflect on.
Right you are that we often find ourselves in ‘the comfortable pew.’ The more comfortable we get the less motivated we are to get up, get out, roll up sleeves, and embrace what the One we follow called us too.
Very interesting, Bob. My comment is that we hear a lot about “the broken and the downtrodden” and may not notice the person grieving and hurting and practically begging for some attention and support who is not exactly walking on her knees. This is my autobiographical comment, I have found my greatest friendships and support among friends made at church. I am easily rebuffed by anyone who seems uninterested in my offer of attention, my time, my conversation. What I put down to snobbism. I have my own sort of snobbism but it is not related to money, power or displays of such.
I suspect that our modern obsession with favouring the rich and successful has to do with our belief that to have a successful life we must be “special”. Instead of being happy to have enough, we must demonstrate our success and our accomplishments through stuff. Bigger house, marble counters, shoes, clothes….
Thus, we measure people’s worth using money and things.
The problem is that research shows that external validation of fame, money and things creates a fragile self-esteem. So we have to seek more and more external validation, never feeling contented with ourselves. And, even worse, we assume someone is a bad person if they haven’t been able to achieve a lifestyle that we deem appropriate. In the U.S., this trend is most pronounced in “prosperity theology”. Some are preaching that if you are good and follow God’s rules, prosperity will naturally follow. So therefore, if you aren’t prosperous, you aren’t a good Christian.
Thus anyone who is prosperous and successful should be valued, and anyone who isn’t is bad. So we justify walking away from the poor and downtrodden.
It’s too bad, because in these times, anyone can be a victim of bad luck, layoffs or firings, so some fat cat shareholder can make a few more cents per share. There but for the grace of God go I.
That reminds me of a story I read somewhere about a priest (or maybe it was a monk) who was about to officiate at the funeral of a VIP. He became very nervous because the deceased was such an important person. This “favourtism” that he felt told him that he was not worthy of the honour of being a priest.
As a teenager I was so blessed to be at a church that had 3 youth groups–a junior, a senior and a German one. I was a member of the first two at the appropriate ages. The Lord must have felt something special toward us as he provided very wise counselors who were with us at any occasion. One of the things they stressed was that we were not to stay constantly with our friends but that we were to ‘mingle’. This was especially important when we met with other like groups from the city and county.
I have never forgotten the wisdom they shared. To be honest, I have tried to follow but sometimes I have chosen not to do so. Obviously, I am a work in progress where the progress is sometimes slow or non existent.