My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism 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 favoritism 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 dishonored 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?
We often think of the early church as a golden age: where everybody got along, all anyone cared about was serving Jesus, and members of the church were closer even than family. This passage shows that was not exactly the case.
People often, and rightly, charge the church with all kinds of hypocrisy. What we see here is that this hypocrisy isn’t a church problem – it’s a human problem. But what happens is that in the church it suddenly gets a lot more obvious. And it should!
Jesus himself was not rich. It’s likely his family was quite poor. His ministry was supported by wealthy patrons, and especially women (Luke 8:1-3). So Jesus stood in an in-between space, where he ministered to everyone and spoke the same message to everyone. His message probably landed hardest on those who had means, who presumably responded by making provision for the poor and supporting the church in its work (Luke 19:1-10).
When Christians treat people differently because of their bank account, sex, race, language, orientation, status, identity, or any other reason, we dishonor the One who made them. This is the fundamental meaning of being “created in God’s image” – we are ALL one in the One who made us. In the church, which is the visible evidence of Christ’s kin-dom on earth, honoring this common bond has to be a core value.
The church’s disregard for our common humanity is what has James so worked up. It should get us worked up too.
For Pondering & Prayer
Why do you think it is so hard for us to recognize our common humanity?
How do things change in our relationships when we look at someone else as a beloved child of God, someone for whom Christ died?