The Everyday Girl Guide to: James and My Life (James 2:1-9)

June 30, 2013

Time to take a big bite out of James.  To me, this whole new section goes together (even though my Bible divides this up into different sections).

James 2:1-9

1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

So much said here… and I can associate with both sides of the story.

I was once pretty well off.  I thought people who were poor were just people who didn’t take care of things, work hard, and do what they were supposed to do.  After all, I had managed money just fine.  Why couldn’t they?

Then I went and tried to get a job after nine years of stay-at-home mommy-ness.  Suddenly, I learned what being poor was… and that it wasn’t always a “choice”.

I judged poor people, even though I tried to help out the homeless and give to the needy.  But I still judged them.  Maybe it’s because of that that I eventually ended up having to judge myself.

I don’t think God judges poor harshly.  If anything, everything I see in the Bible says that He judges the rich far more harshly– perhaps because the rich have far more opportunity to be judging themselves.

Tonight, my kids and I acted out the story of the rich ruler in Matthew 18:23-35.  The Bible doesn’t say how wealthy this ruler was, but if he, in our current economy, had someone who owed him several million dollars and he could forgive the debt easily, then he had to be wealthy beyond any dream of mine.

We re-wrote the story to our current days.  The rich ruler was a wealthy CEO.  He’s going over accounts with his accountant.  “Mr. Williams owes $200.  Mr. Toshiba owes $5400.  Mr. Jones owes $46 million.”  Whoa, hold the train.  Get Mr. Jones in here right now.

The security guards drag Jones in and our CEO demands his money.  Jones goes white, understandably.  “Sir, I don’t have $46 million dollars.”

The CEO shrugs.  “Have him and his entire family arrested.  Sell everything he owes.  He can stay in jail until he pays me off.”

Jones is frantic, falls to his knees, nearly in tears.  “I’ll work double, even triple, shifts.  I’ll work day and night.  I’ll pay you back every penny.  Please, sir, a little mercy!”

There’s no clue whether Jones and our CEO are friendly or what kind of past they have.  But something about his plight stirs our rich CEO.

This is where I differ a bit with the original story.  Because I don’t think the CEO just forgives the debt.

He leans in to his accountant and whispers, “Have my son come here, please.”  The room is dead silent as the son is waited for, except for the rustle of papers as the CEO calmly reads a report.

When the son shows up, the CEO motions for Jones to be brought to his feet.  “I’m relieving you of your debt,” he says matter-of-factly.  “But we can’t just make the money disappear from the accounts, so my son will work in your place.  He makes a higher salary and he does the work out of love, so he’ll do a better job.  But he’ll repay your entire debt.”

The son doesn’t protest.  He knows the business AND his father.  He’ll repay the debt.

Jones is effusive in his thanks, his praise, and his promises to do anything he can to serve the CEO’s interests in the future.  Then he’s dismissed.

This CEO is pretty wise.  He has some history with Jones to have loaned him several million in the first place.  I wonder if he regarded the door sadly as Jones left, knowing with near-certainty what was going to happen next?

Jones doesn’t even go home to celebrate his good fortune.  Having been reminded about past due accounts, he checks his.  Look at that!  Ms. Smith owes him $2412.  She’s been making payments, but that’s not enough.

Jones finds Smith, nearly to the point of assault, and demands his money immediately.  When she can’t pay up immediately, he sends her to debtor’s prison.  Her pleas for mercy fall on deaf ears.

You see, Jones is rich.  You have to be rich to get a $46 million dollar loan in the first place.  So he can’t understand that Smith, with her meager income, can’t repay his weekly salary immediately.  He has no understanding of the true value of grace because he doesn’t value his own.

You know how the story ends.  The CEO finds out, Jones follows Smith to prison, and no one wins.  But how does this go with today’s verses?

The only way to judge the poor, whether the poor in finances or even the poorly behaved Christian, is to assume that what they owe is far more valuable than what you owe.

The only reason I can judge someone else is if I don’t realize that the debt paid for me was worth more than they can ever owe anyone.  Judging implies a lack of mercy, of forgiveness.

I know what a great debt I’ve been forgiven.  I can’t judge anyone.  (It doesn’t always stop me, but eventually I get a clue.)

The rich young son of a multi-billion dollar CEO went to work in my place when I racked up debts I could never hope to pay off.  How could I ever hold a grudge over anything owed to me?

So I got a little bit off track there, but it still comes together.  Judging and forgiveness go hand-in-hand.  Wealth and poverty, whether financial or spiritual, do as well.  If I don’t want to end up in a prison of my own making, I need to show  a little mercy and kindness to those who don’t have it as good as I do.

I’ll leave the judging to God.

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