Faith Without Partiality (Fri. Jan. 13)

The word for today is “partiality.”  Favoritism is the way of the world.  Human society is so ordered that some are more advantaged, favored, and honored than others.  However, the Gospel opposes and reverses this preferential treatment of the privileged.  In our reading of James 2:1-13, we read, “My Brethren, do not hold the faith our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory with partiality” (vs. 10).

The Greek word translated as “partiality” literally means the “respect of persons” (Strong’s #4372, 2160). But the word has the connotation that this regard for others is based on outer appearance, not on inner character.  We hear this undertone when the Herodians flatter Jesus in an attempt to trick Him. They say to Jesus, “You do not care about anyone, for you do not regard the person of men (Matthew 22:18).  The word “person” here refers to the “face” that people present to others (Strong’s  #4383, 2160).  We can say it is their outer “façade.”  To be partial, therefore, is to judge and treat others by their external wealth, status, identity, background, affiliations, etc.

 “My Brethren” Speaks of Oneness in Christ

The apostle sets out to criticize the partiality that judges others by the pretense of wealth.  To start, he addresses his readers as “my brethren” (vs. 1).  This address emphasizes that all alike are one in the one faith in Jesus Christ.  There is no higher or lower in the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christ.  With this in mind, the apostle warns against favoritism within the family of faith.

To show what this favoritism is like, the apostle draws the contrast between the fawning treatment of a rich man in fine clothes and a poor man in rags. This striking illustration is a metaphor for the social discrimination inherent in human affairs. Humanity gives honor and deference to the rich, powerful, and famous, who already have more than enough respect.  Yet it neglects and dishonors the poor and powerless who need attention and respect.

Favoritism as Superficial Judgement

As our reading suggests, favoritism is based on the superficial judgment of others.  The apostle even calls this bias toward the rich as “evil thoughts” (vs. 5).  We may think that the way rich and poor are treated is “just the way it is.” Yet the apostle emphasizes that bias toward the rich, powerful, and honored is sinful and increases sin. Consider what sins the favoritism of the rich elicits.   For the poor, favoritism stirs up jealousy, envy, resentment, coveting, scheming, and the like.  For the rich, favoritism evokes pride, greed, avarice, arrogance, and worry about loss and obsession with gain. Moreover, it often leads to oppression and injustice (OSB vs. 6).

Against the immoral favoritism of the world, the apostle first turns the tables and asserts that the poor are the ones who are favored. He writes, “Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (OSB James 2:5).   Yet the apostle complains that the rich who have the power often use it to harass the poor, drag them into court, and malign their name.

The apostle’s point against the favoritism shown to the rich is clear. But note the irony in vs. 6 & 7. The apostle charges that the rich are the ones who oppress you. Yet you have “dishonored the poor man.”  This puzzling statement prompts us to ask what is wrong with riches. Is the fault the riches itself? Or is it what riches produce?

What Is Wrong With Riches?

An answer comes from the denunciation of the rich in chapter 5. The riches of the rich will testify against them at the Last Judgment because they have been attained by cheating, fraud, exploitation, and even murder (James 5:3-6). Moreover, the rich have lived in luxury, fattening themselves like pigs destined for slaughter (James 5:5).

Another answer about what is wrong with riches is found in the statement that the poor are “rich in faith” and they are heirs of the Kingdom which God “promised to those who love Him (vs. 5). This suggests the rich are “poor in faith” and have no place in the Kingdom. The Lord gives the reason in the Gospels. Riches are an impediment to this faith as the Lord said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (OSB Matthew 19:24). The reason is that riches tempt those who possess them to put their trust in them.

Neither Rich Nor Poor

In his epistle, James writes a scathing criticism of the rich. But in today’s reading, the apostle offers some wisdom that transcends the division between rich and poor.  He advises that if you follow the “royal law” and “love your neighbor as yourself, you do well” (vs. 2:8).  The unspoken point is made clear when we emphasize “as yourself.”  This phrase means that we do not consider ourselves higher or lower than our neighbors.  Self and neighbor are on the same level, and we should love both in the same way.

When Paul speaks of the Body of Christ, he makes this point even clearer.  He states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  This central teaching takes us back to how the apostle addresses the readers of his letter. He calls them “brethren” (vs. 1).  If this address is true and we are all brothers and sisters, we have no need to judge one another based on our “facades,” whether rich or poor.  But we can truly accept one another for who we are in Christ.

For Reflection

Riches and poverty are often relative to one’s attitude, not merely one’s circumstances.  Some who are rich consider themselves poor and some who are poor consider themselves rich.  The difference in outlook is the degree of contentment.  In this vein, Paul writes in 1 Timothy:  “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-9). The word here translated as “contentment” (Strong’s #842, 47), refers to the perception of sufficiency.  To be content, we must have a sense of “enough.”  Paul writes that the desire for riches leads to temptations and frivolous lusts that finally end in destruction (vs. 6).  That perilous desire for wealth is a craving that never has enough.

These observations lead to the thought that we will feel rich or poor depending on our feeling of having enough.  Thus, if we are to measure ourselves and others at all, it should not be on wealth or poverty but on contentment.

 

About Fr. Basil

Now retired, the Very Rev. Archpriest Basil Ross Aden has served as a parish priest, parish pastor, diocesan mission director, writer, and college teacher of New Testament and Religious Studies. He has a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Chicago and has published daily devotional and stewardship materials as well as a college textbook on Religious Studies. He also has published papers and/or lectured on the Orthodox perspective on Luther and the Reformation. religious freedom, current issues of religion and society, and St. John Chrysostom. He is married to Sandra and has two sons and three grandchildren. He is still active as a priest as well as a writer of articles and materials on Orthodoxy and topics of faith and life today.

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