James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 (NRSV)
Chapter 2My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? Verse 2For 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, Verse 3and 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," Verse 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Verse 5Listen, 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? Verse 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Verse 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
Verse 8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Verse 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. Verse 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. Verse 11For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. Verse 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. Verse 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
Verse 14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? Verse 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, Verse 16and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? Verse 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Any of us can and often do fall into the trap of showing favoritism. Our parish has a weekly food give-away for anyone in need. Those who are most in need are sometimes the most unpleasant to be around. We prefer those who are nice and don’t smell bad. Oh, and also those who agree with our political views.
I am stung by James’ withering critique: Faith that is expressed only in words without being shown in expressions of impartial love is not the kind of faith that was shown in Jesus’ life and ministry—both in his words and in his personal actions of mercy. It is dead and convicts us in its shortcomings. And yet we know there is grace. The Spirit continually bids us rise from the dead, forgiving us and empowering us to do so again and again.
We are all indeed beggars before you—needy from birth to death. Help us dignify—and identify with—all people. Give us such living faith, expressed in love. Amen.