- The Wisdom of James
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My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? – James 2:1-5
N.T. Wright tells this story: “I have often been embarrassed in church, but one of the worst moments was on Easter morning many years ago. I had arrived at the service in what I thought was a good time, but there was already a large queue outside and it wasn’t moving. Clearly, the place was already packed. I was wondering what to do when a familiar voice greeted me. I turned round and saw a man I knew a bit, a very senior and distinguished person in the city. I was flattered to be recognized and singled out. But then came the moment. ‘Come with me’, he said conspiratorially. He led me forward, past the queue, to one of the ushers. ‘I am Lord Smith’, he said to the man (I use ‘Smith’, of course, as a pseudonym). ‘I would be grateful if you could find my friend and myself somewhere to sit. Before I had time to think, the two of us were escorted right to the front of the church, where we were given excellent seats with a full view of the service. But I didn’t enjoy it. I was thinking of James chapter 2, and wondering if either my acquaintance or the usher had read it recently. Of course, the same chapter tells me I shouldn’t be judgmental (verse 13). But the whole passage simply rules out any question of pulling social rank in church. This is part of what James means at the end of the previous chapter by not letting the world leave its dirty smudge on you. The world is always assessing people, sizing them up, putting them down, establishing a pecking order. And God, who sees and loves all alike, wants the church to reflect that generous, universal love in how it behaves. In some parts of the early church, they had a rule that if a regular member of the congregation came into church the usher would look after them, but that if a stranger came in, particularly a poor stranger, the bishop himself would leave his chair and go to the door to welcome the newcomer. I have often wished I had the courage to do that.”
We all have selfish reasons why we should be first and other people should be last. Let us put the needs of others before ourselves. Those that have been shown mercy should be mercy show-ers.