Lectionary: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37;
Introduction: The readings for today have a theme of social justice threading throughout. I will be digging more into the topic in the near future but found this collection of readings to be refreshing. I can’t help but think of some of the ways that poverty and injustice are perpetuated here, south of the border and all around the world even while we call ourselves generous. Psalm 146 in particular, as well as these Proverbs I’ve copied below, remind me of where God’s heart is.
Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity,
and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.
Do not exploit the poor because they are poor
and do not crush the needy in court,
for the Lord will take up their case
and will exact life for life.
But before we judge others too harshly, the reading in James brings our own attitudes to to the foreground.
2 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,” 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,” also said, “You shall not murder.” 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.
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. (James 2:1-10, 11-13, NIV)
Admit it, we welcome and connect to people of accomplishment more easily than those of lesser means.
One explanation is that we simply relate better to people of a similar lifestyle to our own, but I have to say that much of the best learning in my life has come from people who were not at all like me.
Another reason could simply be that, in some place deep inside that we don’t acknowledge, we really do want to be around nicer people for our own comfort and benefit.
Even churches can be innocently guilty of this: warmly welcoming the nice young family but only a quick hello to the whiskery old man in the back seat; putting the business person on the Board, asking the high-school dropout to clean washrooms; inviting the young couple for a barbecue but the family with four kids are a bit too much; upgrading the AV equipment while the food bank down the street is running low; sending a team on a missions trip when the same money sent directly would do exponentially more.
At any rate, whether you think those things are legitimate or not, the point is we should look at our true motives and remember that our good intentions are often guided by falseness. James insists that we ‘… must not show favouritism.’
Have I ever witnessed this verse in action? ‘God [has] 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?’ (v5).
Is there someone I treat differently because they are poor? Awkward? Not like me?
Strong themes in the the Bible are seeming contradictions like, poor=rich, weak=strong, last=first, etc. How should these verses affect my politics, church, lifestyle?
‘When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.’ – Mother Theresa
You came to give honour to the least, those forgotten, overlooked and misjudged.
You came to give first place to the last, those left behind, misunderstood and undervalued.
You came to give a warm welcome to the lost, those who are orphaned, abandoned and destitute.
Help us to be your ears to listen to their cries.
Help us to be your voice speaking out love and acceptance.
Help us to be your feet walking beside those in need.
Help us to be your hands to clothe, feed and shelter them.
You came for the least, the lost and last of this world.
Lord, hear our prayer.