1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, donít show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Hereís 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: 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 insulted 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 slandering the noble name of him whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbour as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favourtism, 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, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." If you do not 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!
(New International Version)
1 Samuel 16:1, 4-7
4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, "Do you come in peace?"
5 Samuel replied, "Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me." Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORDís anointed stands here before the LORD."
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
(New International Version)
We are all familiar with Martin Luther Kingís great "I Have a Dream" address before the American nation in which he advocated the need for racial harmony among the people of America. Kingís address was a universal message that has had a profound affect throughout the whole world- especially right here in Toronto.
A few years ago, the United Nations designated Toronto as being the worldís most multicultural city. What a blessing it is to live in a city that vividly displays the awesome variety of Godís handiwork.
Interacting among the body of believers in this city, I sometimes get a feeling of what the face of heaven will one day be like. What joy it will be to see a multitude of faces, completely free from the presence of the sin of discrimination. Instead, we will all be gathered in reverential awe of our wonderful Father!
Until then, we have to endure the ugly reality of the sin of discrimination- a sin that comes in many insidious forms. Todayís scriptural reading from the Epistle of Jamesí for instance, examines discrimination based on ones economic status. Specifically, it denounces the practice of giving wealthy individuals front row "privileged" seats in a service ahead of those who are poor.
The Lure of Wealthy Patrons
In Jamesí illustration, two men walk into a church, one wearing a big gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, the other attired in an old shabby garment. Indeed, the word "vile" or shabby in verse 2 embraces the thought of them even being filthy and dirty. The poor person is allowed to stand at a specific spot, or sit on the floor at another. He is not offered a chair while his well to do counterpart receives first class service.
Why did they treat one man so differently than the other? Was it because one was particularly deserving? Was it because he was a man to whom honour was due? I doubt it. Nothing is known about him except that he seems to have wealth and wealth spells power and influence. Almost unconsciously, some church members must have considered the financial possibilities that a man of his means might bring with him. From there, the slippery slope of discrimination and manipulation began to take a steep decent- a decent that often takes on a form of idolatry.