Summary: Are you prejudiced or just partial?
“Faith That Works: Making A Good Showing”
Suppose you agreed to make some visits on new residents in the South Haven area. You are given two names and addresses, but have time to make only one visit. You discover that the one address is in a very ritzy subdivision, the family is wealthy and has a fine reputation. The other address leads you to a small, poorly - kept, run-down trailer, with no yard - and the people are unemployed, the husband is ill and the wife is pregnant. With time for just one visit, which family would you go to see? In all honesty, to which one would you give your best shot? Why?
James raises just such an issue; and it hits at the very core of who we are as individuals and as a church. James commands us to be partial to mercy. Listen to verse 1 again: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Or as the RSV translates it, show no partiality. Let’s examine the issues James raises.
In verses 2-4 James accuses the young church of DISCRIMINATION. He accuses them of being PARTIAL IN THEIR WORSHIP. Visitors would frequent their services of worship. Since the meeting houses were most often crowded, seating was a problem. Apparently a pecking order had been established. People of honor and prominence - of wealth - sat on the chairs and stools. So whenever a rich person came, he was given a seat, even if someone else of lesser standing had to give one up. If, however, a poor person arrived at the same time, he or she was simply told to squeeze, sit, or squat wherever possible; maybe even stand for the service.
Let’s suppose again. You arrive for worship just as the service is starting. There are two seats left, across the aisle from each other. One is by an acquaintance of yours - a well-dressed older woman, with a beautiful dress and expensive sweater. The other is by a young man, a stranger - with long, scraggly, greasy hair and ear rings, wearing blue jeans and tattoos emblazoned on arms and neck. Where would you sit? Why?
Both persons have come to “check out” the church. Both are worthy of the same reception; both are possible converts to Christ. To treat them differently is to entertain evil - literally wicked - thoughts. In reality, it’s practicing snobbery. According to Webster, snobbery is “setting too much store by rank, wealth, and social eminence.” It is to discriminate, to be prejudiced.
But let’s go beyond the immediate context. We can all too easily be PARTIAL IN OUR ATTITUDE. There’s a concept called first among equals. George Orwell, in his novel Animal Farm wrote: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Most of us say our theology holds that all people are equal in God’s sight. But do we not then proceed to establish first among equals?
For example, if a friend makes a mistake or commits a sin we forgive him or her easily; but if someone we dislike makes the same mistake or commits the same sin, we suddenly find it unbearable and inexcusable! And how do we respond to the handicapped or emotionally disabled? How do we respond to persons who dress a cut or two below or above our style? Isn’t one of the first questions we ask of a visitor or new acquaintance about their background - to be sure they come from good stock? Don’t we make an initial judgment when we hear where someone is employed? What is your reaction to a person who is divorced, remarried, or single? What do you feel when this new person in your life mentions she has Aids? What if he is unemployed and therefore not really a potential giver? Have you ever found yourself thinking, “We can’t afford to take in too many like that; we just don’t get much from them. They end up costing us.” James writes that anytime we shrink away from someone because they are not like us or are not what we prefer, we betray ourselves and our calling. Perhaps we, too, are guilty of discrimination.