In our twenty-first-century world, e-mail, social media, and 24-hour news sources connect us in ways unimaginable to previous generations. Our technologies and online lives bring us seemingly closer to one another than ever before possible. On the other hand, our hyperconnected digital lives often separate us from our physically closest neighbors and deepen labels of “us” and “them.” These categories are often purely imaginary; sometimes, however, they highlight deep differences between us. This week’s readings will help us navigate both our real and fabricated differences as we learn the answer scripture gives to the question posed to Jesus long ago: “Who is my neighbor?”
The book of Proverbs helps us tease out the difference between illusion and reality, between what appears to be true and what is true. Today’s readings hold to the light a common pair of labels—rich and poor—and show them to be an illusion in measuring our worth to God.
As humans, we often fall for the illusion that a person’s life or worth is found in the things he or she possesses. We see those with great wealth as “important” in society because of the influence and power their wealth seems to bring, while we overlook or completely ignore persons without power and money. But today’s readings make the point clearly: Whether we have or lack wealth, we are all created as children of God. We share common human experiences: our need for love and care, our knowledge of what it is like to be frightened or lonely, our ability to feel both despair and joy. At the end of the day, whether we lay our heads on silk pillowcases or a canvas bag on a curbside, God loves and values each of us. We are truly alike.
Lord, help me know that my neighbor is just like me: known and loved by you. Amen.
It has become an uncomfortable subject for many in our society, but God does have ethical standards. The author of Proverbs declares that those who act unjustly, particularly if they oppress the poor, will provoke God’s judgment. The psalmist repeats the refrain that God blesses the righteous but is not pleased with those who choose a consistent lifestyle of rebellion against God. James challenges us practically on this point. Do we judge people by their wealth or status? This is not from God. Truth faith shows no partiality and prompts action. Jesus models this in Mark when he heals two Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles generally remained separate (an ancient form of racism), but Jesus did not discriminate based on their ethnicity. He cared only about their hearts.
• Read Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. How has God shown you that there is no difference between persons who are rich and persons who are poor?
• Read Psalm 125. When have you seen righteousness in someone your church or community has labeled “wicked”?
• Read James 2:1-17. How do your works support your faith in God?
• Read Mark 7:24-37. God calls us to love all our neighbors, no matter their abilities or place of origin. How can you be a good neighbor to those your community has excluded?
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