What Would Jesus Undo? Favoritism
Sunday, October 5, 2015
James 2: 1-17
Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers
James 2:1-17 New International Version (NIV)
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 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. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 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? 6 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? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
We live in a world of favorites! Face it, we want favorite things in our lives; restaurants, ice cream, hairstyles, politicians, tennis shoes, Bibles, and even preachers. We live in a world of favorites because it makes us feel good to have someone or something that is better than we appear to be or can achieve. We have the unique human nature in us to be identified with those who make us feel better or more superior simply be identifying them as a favorite. The problem with our society, and as we will see in a few minutes, the problem with the early Christian church was that we have lost the value of equality. Sure we have all types of “secular” tools for equality: the Constitution, most civil laws, and a host of other “man made” tools.
We hear in the text this morning from James that the people of the New Testament church were struggling just as we struggle; they too had lost the sense of equality and were struggling with choosing of “favorites” in their culture and the Church. Yet we hear James proclaiming the necessary understanding of equality and not favoritism in the role of the church and the Christian. Not that this is without issue but it flies directly “in the face” of what God intended us to do and to be.
I’m often amused with the comment and question some people utter: “Why didn’t God create us all equal?” My friends, God did create us equal, we are the ones who misconstrued the proclamation and sought to choose favorites in our lives. Now in my list that I mentioned earlier, I was clear to be material in nature. That was the easy list. Now what about the list that really matters? What about the list of people we tend to call favorite? The rich and wealthy neighbor, the woman who at our workplace has climbed her way to the top through hard work and labor, the person who has overcome cancer and made a difference in another thousand lives, the athlete who has won 7 gold medals, and the list goes on and on. We are great at claiming the favorites. Yet it is a vicious circle my friends, a vicious circle that in choosing our favorites, we by virtue of the process, choose our “least favorites.”
Again in the Epistle Lesson this morning, James tells us “as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, do not show favoritism!” 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.” Plain and simple!
This is a very difficult understanding to live out. Because if we take this seriously and follow what James says and take it one step further—to show partiality is to sin—I wonder if it is true of showing partiality to the poor as well? I think this is true. This is extremely radical stuff. We must not show partiality to anyone, rich or poor, because God does not show favoritism and neither should we.
I read this week a quote from the Reverend Doctor Sam Wells, former minister to Duke University and now the Rector at St. John of the Fields in London. He says this about the essence of showing partiality to anyone: “We’ve been taught to become one of the Haves and then help the Have-Nots. But this presupposes the Have-Nots have nothing to bring to the table…They are the problem and we are the solution. And the sense of being a problem solver is electric; however, the sense of being a problem to be solved is humiliating.”
I am certainly convinced that Jesus would undo our choosing favorites. He would undo our laying claim to the idea of someone being a “Have” and another person being a “Have-Not.” This radical idea of Jesus issuing to us the command not to show favoritism or partiality is radical stuff! It is radical living. One commentator puts it like this, “Everyone we see, everyone we look at, everyone we meet is to be Jesus to us, whether they are dressed in rags, or in the most expensive designer clothes. For all are sinners in need of God’s love, mercy, kindness and salvation.” If we take this seriously as the Body of Christ, then we must understand what “being and living equally” truly means in our life. We have to learn to “un-cloak” all people and see them as God’s Children. We cannot have the understanding of having a favorite. We have to have the understanding that all are equal in the eyes of God and in our eyes. We have to learn to balance the teeter-totter in our lives.
James in this passage this morning warns us about the radical problem of “love.” He says to us that love will run the risk of going two ways, either all about the individual, the over powering “self-love,” or the other way, “love is all about you, the other person.” James saw this as a huge dividing element in the community of faith. Any partiality on either side was to warp the understanding of ‘agape’ love, which Jesus promoted and taught and to which James lays strong claims needs to be the work of the Church. James challenges us, today as the Church, to be all about the agape, divine love that moves us to a new level of understanding and action. Sure, it is hard and very difficult, but it is what we are charged with doing! James, in this passage, charges us to take on a new and radical understanding of love and identity. He calls all Christians, rich and poor, to show no partiality. He calls us to merge our differing opinions, self-understandings into a new, enlarged, and richer unity of identifying ourselves as “faithful followers of Jesus Christ.” He is asking us to step out into a place that is very different and very risky for most of us. Because most of us find comfort in picking a favorite!
Both Jesus and James, I believe, are reminding us that in order to live out the faithful life of a Christian, we have to challenge ourselves to be radically different and find the equality in every person. I truly believe that Jesus would undo this if in some way He could “magically” reach down and do it. The problem with that is, Jesus is not magical, Jesus is authoritative to His followers, He is concerned that His followers do what He taught them to do and that is to “undo favoritism” in the eyes of God!
Yes my friends, it is radical, it is hard, but it is necessary if we are to live as Kingdom people endorsed, embraced, and in love with God in Christ Jesus on this earth!
James was fighting this battle and so are we! Therefore, let us find our strength in doing so at the table of our Lord.
Amen and Amen!