My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
As a pastor, ideally we have more of a pulse on the hearts of church members than most people. It is our job and burden to pray and care for the flock the Lord God has entrusted to our care. Each person in the flock (including myself) has desires, needs, anxieties, and the like, and on an individual level, I am often only able to point the sheep toward a good path. I can’t walk with them through the muck, and I can’t do the spiritual work that is their calling. I say this because one of the most common cultural issues I keep seeing in our hearts from every angle is our lack of willingness to accept our finite nature let alone to accept the fact that our finite nature is also terribly broken. I was just saying the other day to myself, ‘But we aren’t infinite beings, we’re not disembodied selves, etc.’ The problem is that we have been trained by our world to think of ourselves as nearly infinite and not bound by time or space.
So let’s pull on this thread and then reflect on why I’ve headed this meditation with James 2. I feel like I have worn this path pretty regularly recently: we’re finite beings. I’ve mentioned to many (and I think even in these devotions) that the car really must have been instrumental in fooling us into thinking we can be more extended than God made us to be. Now we can overextend ourselves geographically. I often walk to church during the week, and I counted, I pass maybe 300 homes. So what? That means I walk past the homes of (on one road, usually Buchanan) more than 300 people. Now if you extrapolate the numbers a little it becomes a massive number of people. I walk past all of Waite and Audubon Park Neighborhoods, about 10,000 people. But that is nowhere near the number of individual families and humans you might drive past on your way to work or to dinner at Lemongrass or wherever else. This has led to the confusion of who my neighbor is. In our day, I wonder how Jesus would prick our consciences when we ask him, ‘Well then Jesus, who is actually my neighbor?’ I wonder if he wouldn’t point out the fact that because of our mobility, we actually neglect the neighbor among us. Perhaps this may not be you, but I think there is a parallel thing that happens with our online interactions. Of course, we can really mean well, and there is great benefit to hearing updates online about a friend we can pray for, but in a similar way we neglect the neighbor among us for the easy and cheap interactions we have online (as in, it really doesn’t cost us much in effort or emotions or thought compared to an in-person visit/conversation). We unknowingly have become (astonishingly only in the past 10 years) nearly fully disembodied selves. We are tempted to feel as though our whole identity and self can be mediated through an electrified chunk of glass, silicon, metal, and plastic that cost more than your kids’ schoolbooks for the year. And in the meantime, we miss the neighbor in front of our actual face.
While there is much to say, the one thing that I ran across today that scripturally challenges us with this is that in these different realms, we are tempted to show partiality. Now I don’t think anyone in our churches will pander to a person with a golden ring. I mean, it is actually typical nowadays for a married man to wear a ring, and it’s often gold. But it is easier to see that we neglect our neighbor (and here I mean people with whom we are connected to by covenant, family, or locale, i.e. church and physical neighbor or co-worker) while favoring others- say the more attractive personalities online or those with whom we just get along like old friends but live an hour away. Now it might not be because of wealth, but we might disfavor others in our church because they are not like me and favor those who are like me outside of the local body. We might ignore fellow church members for the easy online relationships we tend (or even by celebrity facades we run into online).
I have often wondered how to draw James 2 out, and I think this is a fine place for us to do that. It is easy in our day not to make an effort to care for those who are closest to us literally (and literally our neighbor), while going off in some other direction because we’re able to. The odd thing is that if we did everything we’re think we’re able to, we’d have traveled the world over, visited all the poorest in the world, perhaps even had meaningful feelings about the poor people enough to financially help them out, and then we’d return home and feel like our life here is worthless. But it isn’t. God has put you here, and not there. There is much to do. As much as we can care for those far off, it cannot be at the expense of those who are nearest us because we are the ones in a position to actually know our neighbor and be physically present with our neighbor. This is more meaningful love than you are able to offer to those that are distant.
So the call is to make an effort to love your neighbors who are actually near you. Near you at church, near you in your neighborhood, near you at work. This isn’t to the exclusion of one person or the other, but it is to say that often there are many of your neighbors who are in need, and you are placed by God to be able to be present and to listen and to encourage with the word.