Once there was a rich man with gold rings and fine clothes who was applauded by television viewers. “You’re fired!” he’d say with a smirk. He showed no mercy. He took no prisoners. He took no guff. Judgment triumphed over mercy, and the people lapped it up. It came from someone just like them, or so they thought, a true-blue American who stands up against intruders from Mexico.
Then some of those who followed him went to church on Labor Day Sunday where they had to square their enthusiasm for the man with the gold rings and fine clothes with the assigned Epistle for the day from New Testament’s Letter of James.
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 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, 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’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For 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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
[Letter of James 2:1-17, NRSV]
And the people left church thinking the preacher was being political and went back to their television sets imbibing the illusion that one day they, too, might be like The Donald.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Labor Day Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015.