Thursday, September 07, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: James 2:1-10

[Each week, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since most weekends, our Bible lesson is one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: James 2:1-10
1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 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, 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,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

General Comments:
1. For some general information on the New Testament book of James, go here.

2. A reading of the second chapter of James shows that the New Interpreter's Bible is right in saying that:
  • 2:1-26 forms "a single argument." In it, the assertion made in James 1:26-27, at the end of the passage we looked at last week, that faith must be evidenced in living is expanded.
  • The first part of the chapter, 2:1-13, is divisible into two parts: (a) vv.1-7 "shows how a preference for the a betrayal of the law of love." (b) vv.8-13 demonstrate "how such behavior is inconsistent with the claim to live by the love taught by Jesus."
  • In both parts, favoritism is denounced.
3. Favoritism that discriminates against the poor is an evil behavior for followers of Jesus to evidence, James says. This is a real challenge to us in the Western Church. Writes William Loader, an Australian:
Western societies major on appearance. We also major on rewarding the rich.
He goes on to say:
The writer of James is sufficiently in touch with Christian origins still to speak from the perspective of the poor and vulnerable. Some Christian groups, including those who looked back to James as a mentor, used the designation, 'The Poor', to describe themselves (the Ebionite Christians). The original core group was poor and many of them chose a poverty lifestyle of travel with little means, believing this was Christ's instruction for them. This set their perspective as one of solidarity with those at the bottom of the economic heap. Thus the author speaks about these rich people who (or whose associates) drag them to courts and slander Christ. [One hopes that the case mentioned here doesn't exemplify what James is referencing.]

The hearers might identify with such dangers, but clearly they had accommodated themselves so much to their context that they were taking on its values. The result was crass discrimination. Our confusion with our contexts is so thorough, that it is only the crass cases of discrimination that we tend to recognise. All the while our context, which will portray itself as willed and blessed by God, depends for its wealth to a large degree on exploitation of the weak and the poor.
I hope to present verse-by-verse comments tomorrow.

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