Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost | September 9, 2018
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?
Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?
Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.
So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
James 2:1-17 New Living Translation (NLT)
Several years ago…it seems like an eternity ago, I wrote a series based on a class that I took called, “5 Things James Would Tell The Wesleyan Church.” I had a class on James and our professor asked us to split into groups and come up with a list of five. I can’t remember the list at the moment. But I remember that I did this series, once as a “farewell” series, and then turned around and did it about two months later at a new church. Because there was a “Back-to-School” Sunday included in there, I wrote a sixth message called, “Pop, Peers, and Prejudice” based on part of the above passage.
This is some hard hitting writing by James, who many believe to be Jesus’ half-brother and also the leader of the church in Jerusalem. They probably didn’t use these titles at the time, but James would have been the Bishop of Jerusalem.
James echoes many of Jesus’ words here in these 17 verses. James cautions against favoritism – especially favoring the rich over the poor. In verse 5, James writes, “Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith?” These words echo the sermon on the mount, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3) James really has some harsh words for those who are rich and who ignore the poor. He reminds us that the royal law says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (vs. 8) As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not to favor some over others, but everyone is our neighbor, just as Jesus’ teaching of the Good Samaritan points out. James even calls this favoritism sin and those who do it are guilty of breaking the law. He even equates it with murder.
But he goes on to say that there is a solution. In verse 13 he writes, “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” Those are words to live by.
In most of our Bibles, we have a split between verse 13 and 14, almost like it’s a new thought, but it carries over. James asks the question, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” James makes a good case that our faith is carried out in our actions. At McCrae Brook we spent most of the summer on this topic of love being illuminated by faith and that we show our love for God as we show our love to our neighbor.
Let me leave you with this thought that closes out this passage, “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless is produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”