Favouritism Forbidden

If the links don’t work for you, here is Amber-Rose’s video presentation Favouritism/Brownies, Awesome God, Thy Kingdom Come Adventure Map and the Dinosaur Song.

Todays reading is James 2:1-13Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Good morning today we continue our mini-series on the book of James. Last week Ian’s reflection from James 1Open Link in New Window encouraged us to persevere during times of trial and if you haven’t listened to it yet I would recommend you visit our Youtube channel or via this website.

Our reading from James chapter 2 is about favouritism and treating others differently particularly our Christian brothers and sisters due to their social standing. James has clearly observed the ways of the world infiltrating the early Christian church. In his letter he describes someone from ‘equestrian’ upper class Roman society, finely adorned in expensive clothes and wearing rings entering a Christian assembly. The more rings you wore symbolised the greater your status in society at that time and in fact people would hire rings to make an impression. This person is shown to the best seat and made a fuss of. However, when a poor person enters the assembly they are told to ‘stand over there’ or ‘if you must sit, sit on the floor’. The words are harsh and direct. Having witnessed this form of discrimination James’ verdict is damning:

  1. How can you call yourselves Christians and behave like this? (v1)
  2. You have judged your brothers and sisters which is evil (v4)
  3. You have dishonoured the poor, the very people who God has chosen for his inheritance. (v6)

It has been suggested that James had Leviticus 19:15Open Link in New Window in mind when he wrote this: Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly’.

James goes on to ask in verses 6 and 7 why are you treating the rich in this way, it does not make sense? They are the very people who can drag you off the street and bring you into a debtor’s court. In those days money lenders were aplenty and of course those most in debt were the poor. There was a right of summary arrest, so if someone owed you money, you could grab them by force and bring them in front of a judge.

At the time James was writing, wealthy landlords and merchants accumulated more and more power and many people were forced off their land ending up as poor agricultural labourers. Many of the early converts to Christianity were in this bracket, so Jesus words brought hope in the midst of their poverty and economic oppression.

Jesus often spoke of the poor having a special place in his kingdom. In Luke 4:18Open Link in New Window at the beginning of his ministry Jesus announces that he is the one who comes to fulfil the prophecy in Isaiah 61Open Link in New Window: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.

He warned the rich that they would find it harder to receive eternal life. This is not because Jesus discriminated against the wealthy, it is because the rich felt they felt they did not need him or could not let go of their wealth. The account of the rich young ruler is a case in point.

We must be careful, however, not to read into this that the rich have no place in God’s kingdom. Jesus died for us all, rich and poor alike. We therefore must not treat those who are wealthy badly either, there is no place for inverted snobbery.

At the heart of this part of James letter, is the challenge experienced by these early Christians in letting go of their sinful lives and leading a new life in Christ.

Jesus said For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21Open Link in New Window), you cannot serve God and money or keep your worldly sinful values.
Does this sound very familiar? Human beings have not changed in 2000 years, in fact they haven’t changed since we walked this earth.

So what are the ways of the world?

Some years ago when I was working for Emmaus Bristol we purchased a telephone system and I got to know the salesman well over the years. He was someone who drove thousands of miles each year so the company gave him a comfortable car—a Mercedes. He told me a story once about when he went to look for a replacement car. He walked to the nearest Mercedes garage on a Saturday with his little boy and they were wearing jeans and tee shirts. When they walked into the showroom, the Mercedes car salesman looked them up and down and ignored them. After a few minutes my friend asked ‘could they look inside a few cars. The Mercedes salesman said ‘help yourself’ and continued to ignore them. Eventually my friend walked out of the showroom and went and bought a new car somewhere else. The next Friday my friend drove his new car (in his suit) to the first garage and parked it outside, where the same Mercedes salesman was sitting. The Mercedes salesman leapt out of his seat and greeted my friend with a ‘how can I help you sir?’ My friend then explained that he came with his son the previous Saturday and had been treated so badly he had bought his new car elsewhere.

This is perhaps an extreme example but our natural human tendency is to look at someone and make a judgement. We have a term for it—‘first impressions.’ In our culture the first impression is viewed as very important and it can be hard to see beyond them.

But as Christians we are called to have a different perspective and see people as Jesus sees them—with love and not judgement. Within the context of our own church fellowships this becomes particularly important because we are the body of Christ as St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 27Open Link in New Window. As members of the body of Christ we are to adhere to new laws, God’s laws, not the ways of the world. Jesus says in John 13:34-35Open Link in New Window “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This commandment tells us there is no place in God’s kingdom for bias, unconscious or otherwise. The effects of not obeying this law, or as James puts it, the Royal law, of loving our neighbour as our self can be devastating and is always divisive.

Many years ago when we first became Christians we became friends with someone who like us was just finding his way in his new found faith. One morning the minister said ‘talk to the person next to you for a few minutes’. Of course the first thing people often do is ask what someone does for a living. Our friend said that he asked the person next to him what he did and the person said that he was a doctor. The doctor then asked our friend what he did. Our friend’s job wasn’t one with a recognised career path or well paid. When the doctor found out what our friend did for a living he just said ‘oh’ and turned his back on him and went to find someone more ‘interesting’. Our friend never went back to church.

Putting our old self behind is so very difficult. St Paul in Romans 7Open Link in New Window describes the battle he had with sin in his life, it is well worth reading again. He thanks God for Jesus how has saved him but recognises that he needs to continually wage war against his old life.

We like St Paul and James have the Holy Spirit in our lives. I have found it helpful to ask for an infilling each day. This helps me, a deeply faulted human being, see people with a more Jesus like perspective.

May we see each other as Jesus sees us.

Amen

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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