Dispatch Two Hundred Fifty-Five

Posted: June 30, 2017 in Fiftieth Bundle
Tags: , , ,

JAMES 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

There must have been some in the Jerusalem church who countered the protest against privileging the already-rich with the argument that, compared with other transgressions of the Law, this one was minor and barely qualified anyway. By ranking the trespasses thus, ordinary folk who thought of themselves as basically good people could build a top-heavy list of sins, tapering off on the descent to where their own meager vices were nearly neutralized by comparison. “So I curry the favor of the well-endowed,” we can hear someone saying, “but at least I’m not a murderer!”

But to assign greater value to the rich member over the visiting poor was tantamount to violating two of the most basic principles of biblical ethics: equality of all before God, and responsibility of one for another. So attributing superior worth to a wealthy benefactor over a poor vagrant is no mere slight in the eyes of God. In the ethics of the Bible, to honor the dignity of another human being, however low they may be on the social scale, is to give the greatest glory to God. Throughout his ministry, Jesus had put this equation to work.

Something more: the author reminds us that even the smallest violation of the law is nevertheless a violation of the law, which puts us all on equal standing in another sense.

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