Paid to Play…
For a few years when I was in elementary school, I had formed this incredible friendship with a girl named Jen. When Jen would come over, it was as if whatever I had on my mind to do, she wanted to do the exact same thing. Whenever she was over, it felt like for the next few hours I got to do my favorite things with my favorite friend. We shared the same favorite toys, movies, games, and she would even make the exact same foods that I wanted. The craziest part was, we had so much in common despite our 10-year age gap!!
If you haven’t figured it out yet… Jen was my babysitter. She was paid to be my best friend. Which meant, even though she did care for me, it was also for her financial gain.
So, why do I share that? Because this is the first thing that came to mind when I was reading through the book of James while also reflecting on both our partnership in Palmarcito, and the Together for the Region work we are doing with Pastor Dexter Harris in Gary.
“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,” you are doing right.” James 2:1-8
From James’ perspective, the Church had run into a challenge. They were attempting to follow the ways of “loving thy neighbor” but were surrounded by the influences of wealth and favoritism of their day. These influences were not worried about individuals having a personal faith in Jesus, but what they didn’t want (and were actively pushing against) were followers of Jesus to take that message of loving their neighbors to affect the systems of exploitation from which they benefitted from greatly. Essentially, the Church was me when I was a child. I didn’t know how much I was under someone’s control and influence, and how much someone was profiting off my ignorance, and neither did the Church.
When we look at the Kingdom work being done in Palmarcito, Gary, and here through Real Life, one thing is for sure, loving our neighbors has to be our royal law. When we choose to live a life of equitable love, don’t be surprised when that proximity to those in need reveals some very real systemic problems. Also, don’t be surprised when those who benefit from those unequitable powers seek to influence you to value and honor what they offer instead of God who offers true hope to us all. If we seek to be the church Jesus calls us to be, and inspire a more equitable and loving world, we need to think on these questions.
Have I been drawn into artificial sources of love and hope or even pledged my allegiance to them?
Have I shown or experienced favoritism that has prevented me from loving all my neighbors?
Have I been influenced to ignore the marginalized and exploited in our world?
Thanks be to God for the unending grace we all receive. Pray and ask for the clarity needed to repent from the patterns of this world highlighted in James so we can fully experience this grace in our lives and world.