More Troublesome Thoughts from James

With whom do you wish to be seen?  In what contexts are you comfortable and with whom?  That’s pretty easy generally, we like to be with people with the same outlook on life we have and who are generally of our same our higher socioeconomic status.  Especially the part about socioeconomic status.  Here is one of my favorite movie scenes, its not Monty Python per se because its from the movie Time Bandits, but it does feature John Cleese as Robin Hood.

The video accuses the charitable (that would be us in case you’re missing the point) of giving to the poor outside of our own cozy community while laughing at them and punching them in the face (all in the politest possible terms of course).  Now James is being a little more oblique than John Cleese’s slapstick (litterally) broadside, but he makes the same sorts of accusations none the less.

And what are these accusations?  That we fail to welcome all into the completeness of our fellowship, we fail to consider them as our equals.  They may be our “work”, as Cleese would have it, but they are not truly our brothers and sisters, they are “those people”.  And that’s how James starts, by emphatically calling those to whom he is writing his brothers.  And why are they brothers?  Because they “are believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”.

Remember what James said in 1:9, “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.”  By addressing us as brothers he emphasizes the link all christians have (Christ) and its superiority to the things of the world that make us comfortable together.

One commentary says that James has three things to say about money:

1)  Money as status:  While money does confer status in the world, ultimately our status is in our relationship with Christ the commentator says ,”this relative glory [of wealth] is exposed as insignificant compared to Christ’s glory.”  What do we consider a status symbol?

2)  Money as value:  We are all taught to value money; “the value of a dollar” is something we are at great pains to insure our children understand.  But is it of ultimate value?  Jesus says,”Of what value is it for a man to gain the world but lose his soul?”  James says in 2:5 that God has chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to inherit the kingdom.  What is it exactly that money can buy?

3)  Money as power:   No one, least of all James, denies the power of money.  But the power James focuses on is its power to change people for the worse, to distract them from God and to make them rely on the Benjamins instead of the God of Creation.  James said it is those using the power of money that are exploiting the faithful, dragging them into court and slandering the name of Christ.

So James says we are to welcome all who are brothers in Christ (or who wish to be) because it represents keeping the Royal Law (Love your neighbor as yourself).  And he notes that if we fail in that we have broken the law, and if we are guilty of one point in the law, we are guilty of the whole.

And he reminds us to speak and act as people who will be judged and that judgement without mercy will be the lot of those who have not been merciful.  Does this remind you of anything Jesus said?  James concludes that mercy, he says, triumphs over judgement. Thank God for that.

Lots of questions:

  • Can people be poor in way’s other than money?  Do we show favoritism in those ways as well?  Is James talking about all kinds of cliquish  behavior, or just this one?
  • Is it actively bad to have money?
  • What is the effect on the church of favoritism?
  • How do we really feel about people who do not share our status in the world?
  • Does James clear us to snub the rich?
  • Can one truly keep the whole law?
  • How much mercy are we supposed to show?  If we are truly being merciful how would we act?