Reading for Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost: James 2:1-17
Peace be with you!
Think of all of your friends—the people who you associate yourself with on a regular basis. Are your friends your colleagues who you grab a beer after work with? Are your friends the same race and/or in the same social class? Do you share a similar life experience, such as a specific disability or a tragedy? Do you share the same belief system with your friends? Do your friends dress and act like you? Who you include in your network says a lot about you as a person and as a Christian according to James.
Everyone has a few people they connect with and share their every move with. The titles of these individuals vary: best friends, favorite people, “besties,” sisters and brothers, and husband and wife. You call them when something exciting happens as well as when something upsetting happens. As a group, you act like a gatekeeper by deciding who will be included in your group. If someone dresses, acts, or talks differently than the your group they are not allowed into the inner circle. As a group, you judge others for not being like you.
On the other hand, people are attracted to others who appear similar to them. A few days ago I was leaving a restaurant when an older lady asked my personal caregiver if we were associated with Crest, a local school for kids with cognitive disabilities and behavioral issues. She went on to say her nine-year-old grandson goes there, and her daughter is very involved in the fundraising. My personal caregiver said no as we continued getting into my car. The old lady saw me as someone who had similar movements and speech patterns as her grandson and assumed I must have the same disability.
As a society, we judge others by their appearance—by how they groom and dress themselves before we even meet them. Based on their appearance, we decide if we will approach them or how close we will allow them to get. We stick up our noses at individuals who dress, act, and talk differently than us.
One day I was in the mall’s parking lot with a friend when I asked, “Why are they doing [whatever “it” was we disapproved of]?” My friend quickly answered, “They are not us,” as we drove away.
This interaction with my friend demonstrates society’s us-versus-them mentality. We continually judge people based on how they appear to be similar to or different from us.
James writes, “Stop it. Stop choosing favorites. Stop favoring one group of people over another. When Jesus said, ‘love your neighbor,’ he did not say you could pick and choose your neighbors. Jesus just said, ‘love your neighbor.’ So when you favor one group over another, you dishonor the other group and God” (see James 2:1-8).
James is not saying we have to be best friends with everyone we meet. However, we need to have respect and honor for everyone we come into contact with. We need to care about those less fortunate than us just as much as we care about those who are just like us, because even they are equal in God’s eyes. No one should be put in a corner, because they are different. As Christians, we are called to share God’s forgiveness, grace, and love with everyone we meet, not just a select few.
James goes on to write, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13 NRSV). We must show mercy to those who sin against us in order to receive mercy ourselves from God the Father. We are not without sin; therefore, we have no right to judge or to pick favorites. Dan G. McCartney writes, “Since both justice and mercy are traits of God, the one who has faith in Jesus (2:1) must also evince both justice (by showing no favoritism) and mercy (by refraining from judgment [4:11-12], by restoring a wandering [5:19-20], and by providing for the needy [1:26-27]).”[i] Therefore, we are called to fight for justice by not judging each other and by treating each other as equals.
With that said, James challenges us to live out our faith through our actions and not just with our words. James explains you would not tell the hungry to go have a nice meal without first making sure they had access to food (2:15-16), because faith without works is dead (2:17). James is not contradicting Paul by saying we have to do works to enter the Kingdom of God, but rather he is saying that our faith should be the reason we do good works. Instead of relating to those who appear to be similar to us, James challenges us to relate to those who appear to be different than us and to have a conversation—to find what struggles they face and how we can work together.
God’s love shows no partiality or favoritism. God’s love is for everyone, not a select few. Therefore, God calls us to go out and share the good news with anyone who will listen, even those different from us, because the Kingdom of God is for everyone.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for forgiving us and showing us mercy when we fall. Help us to have open conversation with each other, even those different from us. Create ways for social justice to be possible in the world. Lead us to love our neighbor as you love us. Give us mercy when we fall and forgiveness when we stand and repent. Thank you for having no favorites but for loving us all as we are. Amen.
[i] Dan G. McCartney, James, vol. of Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 151.