Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

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.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

We are already acquainted with the situation in Corinth where certain factions were forming within the Christian congregation there, tending to pull the larger group into divisions around Paul (the evangelicals), Peter (the traditionalists), Apollos (the intellectuals), or Christ (the charismatics). Each party represented a distinct perspective on what it meant to be a Christian – missionary outreach, a strong tradition, Bible knowledge, or spiritual gifts. Then as now, it was easy for “insiders” (of one of these persuasions) to regard the others as missing the real point.

In this situation, though Paul might well have been flattered by the fact that some church members were championing him and his priority on outreach, the apostle reminded his readers of something Jesus reportedly had taught during his ministry a generation earlier: Don’t judge.

When we judge another person, we take something about that individual – their background, reputation, appearance, socio-economic status, lifestyle, voting preference, sexual orientation, current beliefs, or just about anything else you can imagine – and draw a conclusion concerning their dignity, virtue, and worthiness as a human being. This kind of judgment helps us deal swiftly with people we don’t really know, or care to know. With a strong judgment in place, we now have the justification we need to dismiss them, exclude them, exploit them, violate them, or even destroy them if need be.

Jesus had taught that none of us has the right to judge another person in this way. His entire ministry had been dedicated to reaching out and touching people in their humanity, their brokenness, and their need. Roles and labels and stereotypes are all part of that inhumane way in the world we call prejudice (and all that follows) – pre-judging someone and thereby sinning against their nature as a human being created in the image and likeness of God.

Living by this rule (“Don’t judge!”) gave Jesus the necessary courage to renounce prejudice, along with the freedom to carry on as one beyond the judgment of others. In his time, the apostle Paul found a fresh application for this important rule of the spiritual life.

1 SAMUEL 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

After the Israelites settled the Promised Land but before they were united under a single monarchy, social order was managed by a tag-team of charismatic leaders known as the Judges. Samuel is an interesting transitional figure, being the last Judge and the one who anointed the first kings. There were many who felt that a monarchy amounted to a defiance of the theocracy (more or less direct rule by God) that had been in effect during the period of the Judges.

The loose federation of tribes that had left Egypt for Palestine were struggling with this transition from an “ad hoc” government where issues could be addressed spontaneously on the basis of what god commanded in the moment, to one that had to work through multiple channels and by means of an all-too-human administration. This added element of mediation (magistrates, secretaries, and officials) is what caused the feeling of many that their nation was sliding irrevocably into a secular age.

Of course, just because “God” is calling the shots doesn’t automatically mean that a nation will be godly. We put the word in quotes to remind ourselves that our concepts of God will always reflect our general needs and aspirations as a species, as well as our more peculiar quirks, hangups, and ambitions as individuals. In other words, “Thus saith the Lord” doesn’t mean we should simply accept what follows on blind faith.

So there are dangers on both sides – a more secular (this-worldly) government that might easily lose its moral footing and get too self-involved to do any good for its people, or a theocracy where “God” might be little more than an unimpeachable (and conveniently transcendent) warrant for bigotry, dogmatism, oppression and violence.

King Saul, Israel’s first, did not fare so well. By going off on his own course and not listening to God, he had pulled his nation into some dangerous religious compromises. So “God got rid of him” – at least that’s how the rankled golden-age folks were reading history.

Back to the theocracy of charismatic leadership, then? Not so fast.

                                                                                                 

Truth is, charismatic forms of government just can’t manage the expanding concerns of a growing population – not to mention that they are inherently unstable. However much the Bible story of Israel’s emergence is actual history and how much of it is more like many other national myths, including the United States of America, social order and politics inevitably moved in the direction of monarchy.

Samuel’s task now was to follow God’s direction and anoint Saul’s successor. He was sent to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse who had eight sons. At a special ceremony Jesse sent his sons out to Samuel, one at a time beginning with the eldest. 

Samuel naturally had his own assumptions and preferences, and after God said “pass” on each boy that he regarded as qualified for the job – down through the list of seven sons that Jesse had summoned to attend – the prophet looked around quizzically, perhaps a little embarrassed. “Is that it? No more boys?”

“Oh, well” answered the father, “there is my youngest, but I didn’t think to have him here. He’s young, inexperienced, and tends to daydream and scribble poems while supposedly watching my sheep.”

“Bring him to me.” When the young lad arrived, God confirmed: “This is my man!” And so that day, Samuel anointed David the new king of Israel.

It makes you wonder just how many blessings, opportunities, and even miracles might never make it to your eyes because your mind isn’t looking out for them.