“As coronavirus deepens inequality, inequality worsens its spread,” read the article by Max Fisher and Emma Bubola on the New York Times website on March 16, 2020.
James offers a clear-eyed view of class and income inequality among first-century followers of Jesus when he writes, “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” He speaks out against those in early Christian assemblies who are quick to favor the rich but leave the poor to sit on the floor or stand in the back.
James reminds his readers of Jesus’ commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” James goes on to add, “But if you show partiality, you commit sin.”
Do we actually believe that we should love our neighbor as ourselves? Then we too must seek a clear-eyed view of the distinctions that class (and race, income, ability, and gender) make in the way we treat our sibling children of God.
In the early days of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic when my family was sheltering in place, I drove to a fast-food restaurant. As I paid for our burgers, I looked in at a handful of low-wage workers who were definitely not sheltering in place. They were busily preparing food for those of us who were.
As the pandemic got under way in the U.S. last year, the New York Times reported that people in lower income groups were more likely to catch and die from the disease. And “they are likelier to suffer loss of income or health care, . . . potentially on a sweeping scale.”
James’s warning should challenge all disciples of Jesus who seek to live a life—and build a society—that doesn’t make distinctions.
O Creator of all, help us as we struggle to love all. Amen.
It is sometimes an uncomfortable subject for many, 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. True 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? How does this affect your actions?
Read Psalm 125. When have you seen righteousness in someone the community (or the church) has labeled “wicked”?
Read James 2:1-17. How do your works support your faith? How does your faith in God move you to action on behalf of others?
Read Mark 7:24-37. God calls us to love all our neighbors. How can you be a good neighbor to those your community has excluded?
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