There is one fact that is easy to miss in this week’s readings: Nothing is required from those who are in need.
Judaism has an epochal history of advocating for the have-nots, those on the fringes of society who are poor or strangers from other lands or widows and orphans. The verses from Proverbs reiterate that: God takes the side of the poor and afflicted because, just like the rich, God is their maker. And James reminds us that God has chosen the poor to be heirs to the kingdom. From the biblical point of view, people in need are simply those who lack a necessity, whether it is food or shelter—or respect.
And no one who has—wealth, social standing, material resources—is absolved of the need to share those things with the people who don’t have them. The scriptural record addresses those of us whose need for “three-squares and a cot” are more than met, who are self-assured about our standing in the community.
James makes clear that we are all peers before God, and respect for one another is a central requirement of the gospel. We are not to move the wealthy to the front of the line or the reserved seating.
Nowhere does the gospel obligate those who receive our care to do or be or become anything other than what they are. They don’t have to sign a pledge card or bring a covered dish or walk the aisle or even say thank you. They don’t have to be what we want them to be. Our call is to love them in the way that we love God, the way that we love ourselves, and the way that God loves us and them—as God’s beloved children.
O God, we are all poor and needy. Keep us rich in your love. 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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