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(Part 7)


February 20, 2014

Today’s readings:
James 2:1-9
Psalm 34:2-7

James tells us, “My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jas 2:1). Then, just as now, people generally defer to or show preference for the rich versus the poor man, for the powerful versus the powerless in society (Jas 2:2-3). James harshly condemns such attitudes, especially in Christian community: “have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?” (Jas 2:4). Those who show such partiality to the rich are guilty of prejudice and discrimination, which are never according to the ways of God. Further, they have become judgmental, judging who is to be accorded proper honor or preference, again contrary to the judgments of God. Finally, they in effect have evil designs, having self-serving motives, trying to curry favor with those with money and power.

They are also ignorant. They do not know that, even as we are all equal in the eyes of God, God actually favors the poor. God identifies with the poor, exalts the poor, and commands His people to have a special concern for the poor. “Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” (Jas 2:5b). This is why our Church proclaims a preferential option for the poor. This is why we strive to build the Church of the Poor. This is why our major work is the No One in Need (NONe) movement.

Work with the poor is just a living out of the two greatest commandments--love of God and love of neighbor. Who is my neighbor? Anyone who is in need. How do I manifest love for God? By helping the least of Jesus’ brethren. To be a Christian is to be someone who loves the poor. “However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (Jas 2:8). We love God, we love ourselves, we ought to love our neighbor, especially the poor.

Christians are a people who worship. But because of the intimate connection between God and the poor, there is also an intimate connection between our worship of God and our concern for the poor. David said, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth. My soul will glory in the Lord; let the poor hear and be glad. Magnify the Lord with me; and let us exalt his name together.” (Ps 34:2-4). David says he will bless and praise the Lord always. He encourages others to worship the Lord. But see, wedged right in between his words is his desire that the poor also be a part of it, that they hear the good news and rejoice in it, that they be gladdened by the hope that those with power and money, like David, would be people of God who glory in Him, and consequently help the poor.

Now we have our needs, and we turn to God, having faith that He will help us. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, delivered me from all my fears.” (Ps 34:5). We need never be afraid for God is there for us. “Look to him and be radiant, and your faces may not blush for shame.” (Ps 34:6). We can always look positively to the future, filled with hope, knowing that God always wants the best for us.

But see, we need to look not only to our own needs but also to the needs of the poor, for this is what God expects of us. The poor cry out to God in their need. “This poor one cried out and the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him.” (Ps 34:7). The poor cry out, the Lord hears, the Lord will save him from his distress, but the Lord does that through us. God expects us to help the poor. God gives us the privilege of being His instruments of salvation and liberation.

We cannot go to God just with our needs. We cannot worship God but be unmindful of His beloved poor. We cannot expect God to hear our prayers when we do not hear His direction to help the poor. Our worship would be empty and not pleasing at all to God. Isaiah said that true fasting is justice and mercy to the poor. Only then can we call on the Lord and He will answer.

“But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” (Jas 2:9). Partiality to the rich and powerful, and lack of preference for the poor, is sin and transgression of God’s law of love.

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