My 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?
Judging a book by its cover
The senior pastor of my first church would occasionally call a friend of his to come to church on the day this James text was being preached. The man would arrive on a very loud Harley Davidson motorcycle in full bike leathers with the patches, bandanna… everything!
The pastor would watch the reactions of the people as they came to sit in church. Most would sit in a pew far away from the “biker” man. Worship would begin. The words of James would be read. The pastor would ask the man to stand up. Little did people know that the man was one of the top rated family lawyers in the Twin Cities. What they had done was judge a book by its cover.
The subversive act of sharing peace
James uses the word “prosolepsia” to describe this kind of judgement. It is a word that literally means “to judge something on its face.” Christian fellowship has no place for this kind of partiality or distinction. The peace of God is a peace that we share with all people regardless of socioeconomic background, color of skin, who they love, gender or age. When we turn to our neighbors every Sunday to share God’s peace we are, in effect, practicing a very subversive act! We are confessing to God, and each other that here in God’s house all of the judgments that the world may heap on us because of labels or perceptions are null and void.
James’ letter is a reminder that our actions speak louder than words. Perhaps James is right. It is nearly impossible to think our way into a new way of acting. What God makes possible in each of us is the courage to act our way into a new way of thinking.