Showing Mercy to the Poor
My pastor preached on James 2 today and I believe that this passage throws light on some issues surrounding my recent reflections about comparative culture and morality.
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby 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?What does it mean to talk about the rich and the poor? My pastor suggested that the poor are those who cannot return the favor of your kindness. Although he was speaking mostly about monetary repayment, I would extend it to encompass more than just fiduciary capability. The poor are those who are so impoverished and incapacitated because they do not have the means either materially, emotionally, or even morally(!), such that they are rendered incapable, or perhaps even unwilling to, give back to you.
Listen, my dear brothers: 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 insulted 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 slandering 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. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, Do not commit adultery,[b] also said, Do not murder.[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
The passage teaches that true religion consists of showing compassion, mercy and love to such impoverished people without expecting anything in return (not even gratitude). In so doing, we will then have fulfilled the royal law of love - "Love your neighbor as yourselves."
If we refrain from doing so we will come under the judgment of this law! In order for us to be truly free, we must practice such mercy giving and love without discrimination. This is perhaps why in some quarters we seem to be trapped into thinking in the way we do. Perhaps, all these busy activity and speech only serve tocamouflage our true state: we are of all cultures, the most non--free and poverty-stricken.
Perhaps the desire and the reaction of cultural superiority thinking were triggered by all those "stingy" comments and debate that went on just a few short weeks ago. Perhaps when the government upped the ante, and when private giving started to come in, some people felt vindicated. Finally, the culmination came in the form of the false justification that we are, after all, morally superior when compared to the response and actions of other cultures.
In my recent posts and discussions on the issue of cultural morality and the relative superiority (or lack thereof) of Western culture both here and elsewhere, I do not mean to say that there is just no basis for doing comparative cultural moral analysis.
The point I objected to in the words of the infamous diplomatic service worker (whose words, might I add were neither diplomatic nor reflections of those of a servant) and the post of the blogger who highlighted this quote, was that the blogger seemed to make a sweeping statement of the moral superiority of the West, based on limited observations. Another of my objections has to do with the way many others have jumped in who not only supported the view that the West is morally superior but also that it is without question, superior in all aspects.
My objection has to do with the fact that such attitudes might nullify all the acts of mercy and compassion that we have done thus far, and also I was cautioning if these attitudes belie a more systemic inferiority complex of a civilization that otherwise has many commendable and desirable aspects.
The James passage, I believe, spells out what is true morality, compassion, mercy and justice. It also provides the way out of our imprisonment and impoverishment: show unmitigated and indiscriminate mercy to those who are the most powerless and disenfranchised and do so withholding our tongue (James 1: 19-27) for it is a fire that kills James 3: 3-7).