Impartiality or Discrimination
James 2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
James begins this section by declaring that those who reflect Jesus Christ would not show favoritism, for this is completely outside the character of Christ. Then, he gives a description of an assembly where one person is treated better than the other. In this situation it is the wealthy individual who is treated better than the poor person. If this were a court of law one would see that this was not a fair trial. Jewish law would require that both individuals who come before a judge are to be at the same level. Either they are to sit or stand, but both are to be in the same place. Therefore when one has a seat and the other does not it implies that the religious laws are not being followed and the wealthy man is already at an advantage. Also for a trial to be fair both individuals in court were to dress in the same type of clothing. No one was supposed to look better than the other.
As soon as the Church allows herself to be drawn into a situation where one person is judged to be of more value than another, the Church becomes an unjust and a partial judge, discriminating against certain individuals and this is condemned as blasphemy.
There are many ways in which we can show favoritism in our lives. Let’s confess that we are all tempted to do so from time to time. Certain people are simply more appealing to us than others and we are tempted to be with those who make us feel comfortable. Getting outside that comfort zone is a challenge, and yet that is the example of Jesus Christ. We cannot just talk about knowing and loving Jesus, we have to prove it by our actions. It doesn’t just come naturally, but there must be intentionality in what we do!
This week I was with a group of friends as we were walking through a downtown area of a large city. There were panhandlers almost everywhere who were asking for help. I was blessed to see one of our leaders simply walk off with an individual and I instinctively knew what he was doing. He was taking that gentleman somewhere to buy him some food. Not a word was said, just a simple action as two men who didn’t look like they belonged together walked and talked on their way to fill someone’s stomach. It was as if I saw Jesus walking down that sidewalk and it made me believe in the glorious presence of my Lord Jesus Christ.
There are so many ways in which we can show favoritism and it’s not just about the rich and the poor, but we can start there. Those of us who live in wealthy nations have the blessing of being rich. Sometimes we don’t realize how rich we really are, until we visit another country, and there realize that even the wealthy may be poor in our eyes. We congregate towards those who are most like us because that is the place in which we feel most comfortable. We may feel this way when we encounter immigrant populations within our own country. Their culture and language make it a bit uncomfortable for us to feel at home. It would require intentionality to reach out and learn how to make this our comfort zone. Therefore we may unintentionally put up barriers to those with whom we are called to fellowship.
Even within the church culture we are not always impartial. Again, we gravitate toward those who are most like us because this is where we feel comfortable. Often ethnic minorities and women find themselves excluded simply because they are different from the dominant culture. The Gospel of Jesus Christ asks us to break out of the dominant culture and refuse to succumb to the actions/reactions of the world. God has chosen the poor to be the ones who are rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom! To be in the midst of the kingdom we are to find ourselves with those whom the world would not embrace. There is to be no discrimination in the life that is glorifying God, but there is to be impartiality in all things.
Lord, please help me to see my brothers and sisters through your eyes. May you be glorified in my relationships and in my encounters with those who are not like me. Amen.