Not Always Obvious

By David Baumann

A Reading from James 2:1-13

1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For 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, 3 and 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,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, 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? 6 But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.


There are numerous short videos on YouTube in which the new pastor of a church first appears dressed as a homeless person to see how people will treat him; or the new owner of a restaurant shows up as a poor person to see how his employees will greet him; or a person in a wheelchair shows up at a place of business to learn how the handicapped are treated before she stands up and reveals herself as a newspaper reporter or government inspector. These videos, like today’s lesson from James, make an obvious point: don’t play favorites by the flawed standards of the world.

In our culture and in our Church, the lesson is indeed obvious. No one would disagree. But the problem with obvious lessons is that their very familiarity and agreeability can cause us to miss the point unconsciously. I recall a time when a man, apparently poor and needy, visited my church and wanted to talk to me. Partway through our conversation, I wrote him a check from the church’s helping fund. When I gave it to him, he grimaced and said, “I didn’t ask you for any money.” I was chagrined to realize that I had gone so far in “not showing favorites” and wanting him to feel valued, that I had seen him as a beggar and treated him as one, and not as the full person that he was. The commandment quoted in today’s lesson, “Love your neighbor as yourself” would be a lot easier to understand — and shallower — if it were merely, “Love your neighbor.” But it’s deeper than that. “Love your neighbor,” for everyone you meet is a person just like you. And the “golden rule” applies: treat all others without qualification the way you would want to be treated. If the lesson seems obvious, look again.

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

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Today we pray for:

St. Francis Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas
The Diocese of Ekiti Kwara (Church of Nigeria)


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