Summary: An answer to the question of "Who is my neighbor." Points to true inclusivity.
She lives three miles out of town. She lives there because she has to. Each day, she walks that full distance to town and back. She walks because she has to. In town the only place that dares even let her get near is the local church, and even they make her use the back entrance. It is there, at the church, where she receives the small amount of food that they give - that she might eat. And then the long walk back. The almost unbearable walk back.
You see it isn’t so bad that she has to live three miles out of town. Why as a girl she lived six miles out. No… the distance wasn’t so bad. It was the looks. It was the stares. It was the whispers that weren’t quite whispers. She could hear… though she didn’t need to hear.
A child begins to walk past her, and outloud she says what they require her to say… “unclean.” The child knowing what to do… quickly sidesteps to stay as far away as possible, and goes on his way as if nothing had happened. Unclean… it was only title, and yet… it meant abandonment. It meant living outside of the community. It meant “being” outside the community.
You see, for twelve years she had been plagued with bleeding. While this may not seem significant to us, in her society it marked her as one who was defiled, as one who was not allowed to live within normal society, as one… “unclean.” It was a label that branded her an outcast.
She lives in a society where everything is based on where you fit in the hierarchy of that grand ladder we know as a caste society. And she unfortunately… was forced on to the bottom rung… forced to live outside the city… forced to say “unclean” as she passed people on the street so they would know to stay far enough away so as not to become “unclean” themselves.
And so she walks, that long… long walk home… speaking outloud those same words… over and over… as she passed people on the street. “Unclean” “Unclean” “Unclean”
This is how it was, 2000 years ago, back when the church was first being formed. People sorted out into all kinds of categories, ranked by their position in life… each one holding more esteem than the other. Those at the top of the ladder… had the grandest life, with the best seats in the house, the best food on their plates, dressed in the finest clothing… walking the town with everyone staring in admiration. Those at the bottom of the ladder, forced to live outside the society, forced to sit and sleep on the floor, with only scraps to eat, dressed in what only could be described as rags… walking (when they dared) into town with everyone staring in derision. And it wasn’t just in the towns, or in the society… it was in the church as well.
So it was when James wrote these words in the beginning of chapter two, “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man is with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there,’ or ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
The church was not living up to the standard it had been called to. And James reminds them of this in verse eight when he writes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” James calls it the royal law. And it is one that the church had forgotten… “love your neighbor”… it is something they had always known… “love your neighbor”… something exemplified by Jesus himself… “love your neighbor” and yet… they were still able to treat the rich with favor and ignore the poor. Perhaps it was a matter of forgetting… perhaps it was a matter of misunderstanding, perhaps it was a misunderstanding of “who” a neighbor is.
I now throw you my first official curveball, as we turn to a different scripture passage as a cross reference. I take us to Luke 10:25, “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have answered right; do this, and you will live.’