mercy triumphs over judgment

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. 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, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” 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.

James 2:1-13

No matter how hard we might try, it’s easy to be critical of others. From someone cutting in front of you on the road to people not doing their work well to whatever else it might be, it’s easy to find fault.

James’s words here seem to indicate a lack of comprehension in simply misjudging others. Here it’s probably looking down on the poor while looking up at the rich. We put the rich on a pedestal thinking somehow they deserve their wealth and are a cut above the rest. And that the poor are poor for a reason. Sadly we don’t know the real stories, and we fail to factor in our own great need.

The point James makes here is that mercy is to prevail over judgment. That when it’s all said and done for us, we need to be extending mercy to others, not our good and even right judgment. In important part because we truly don’t know it all, and because we ourselves need that same mercy, yes, every day. The mercy that triumphs over judgment through the gospel. In and through Jesus.

against greed

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Luke 12:15

Jesus’s words here are followed by what is called, “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” But it’s assumed in our society that a lot of money is good, so that for many people careers are successful more or less depending on how much money is made.

Jesus warns against that. We have to consider all of Scripture as well. Wisdom books tells us it’s good to avoid debt, to not try to hit the jackpot but save little by little, to work hard. And we’re told that money itself is not the sin, but the love of money. That those who are rich should be generous with their wealth. And that helping the poor is a priority to God.

It seems like just to make a living one gets sucked into a vortex predicated on profit. Wall Street lives on that, it’s all about profit. God’s provision for many of us will involve being a participant in that. It’s the way of the world, but we live in the world, and there’s surely no escape for most of us. That means minimum wage jobs for too many, or wages not much better, sometimes for long work hours, and with next to no benefits, dependent on whatever government might provide, or government and volunteer services.

What Jews lived in during Jesus’s day was probably not much better. Roman taxation, not to mention occupation, along with the greed that all too characterized religious leaders made life hard for many. So it’s not like we can expect to find something better in what Scripture calls “the world” as in the world’s system. It seems like it will always be a struggle. In the society in which I live, the rich seem to be getting richer, arguably and I think often plausibly at the expense of the poor. Supposedly the rich will take care of the poor through jobs made and fair wages. Yet the gap between the rich and the poor increases.

What does this have to do with Scripture, or the passage above? We need to understand the times in which we live, so that in light of what God tells us, we will know what to do. That’s an ongoing project, needing all who are interested. As for me, I’m more dependent myself on those who would want to work through that. But I think it’s plain enough for us to see through what many see as the dream to aspire to, looking up to those who seem to be doing well in living it.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:13-21

 

 

James’s warning to rich oppressors

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

James 5:1-6

James is aptly compared to Proverbs and is probably the closest New Testament book in line with the wisdom tradition in the First/”Old” Testament, the Hebrew Bible. But in this passage, James echoes the passion and cry of the prophets against wealthy oppressors. The prophets didn’t hold back their warning of God’s judgment to come against the rich who lived it up at the expense of others, especially those who were poor. Wealth in and of itself is not the problem according to the biblical witness. It’s what people do with that wealth. While God has given humankind all things to enjoy, God wants and expects those with plenty to help those who are in need. And we see a good number of examples of that in scripture, such as the story/parable our Lord told of the good Samaritan, who apparently had at least some wealth.

That is not what James is getting at here. Instead it’s a warning to the rich that judgment day is coming, that they are setting themselves up for disaster, even getting themselves fat for the day of slaughter. Instead of laying up treasures in heaven, they are investing everything into this life for themselves. And with a stingy, Scrooge-like heart, rather than a generous giving heart. Jesus’s words are apt here:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,a]”>[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,b]”>[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

Notice the links in this passage to the following footnotes:

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 6:22 The Greek for healthy here implies generous.
  2. Matthew 6:23 The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.

The rich were in service to the god of Money, the love of which, as we read from Paul (1 Timothy 6) being a root of all kinds of evil. God expects people to help others when and as they can, by grace out of a cheerfully willing heart. And God does not look kindly on those who have plenty of wealth even at the expense of others, particularly those who are poor. Judgment Day is coming, and it won’t be pretty. All the evil that has been done will have to be accounted for, when God judges everyone according to their works. In James’s day: unpaid wages, and out and out murder: the innocent or righteous one, and in a sense our Lord himself because of his identification with his people. In our day it could refer to a heartless failure to not love one’s neighbor as one’s self, played out in all kinds of ways in terms of what is done and left undone.

This is not a feel good passage in James. James really wasn’t about giving people a lift, except in helping people to a living faith. This ends up being a word of encouragement to those who were oppressed and suffering, and praying to God for relief. At the same time it could have been a warning that would get not only to the ears, but into the hearts of those who needed to hear it. That they might repent and change their ways, yes, in the fear of God and God’s judgment to come. But James does not refer to any such promise here.

a closer look at favoritism (the rich and the poor)

have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:4

Yesterday’s post points to James’s concern over the favoritism Christians were giving to the rich over the poor. James does end up making a distinction himself, but it’s circumstantial, yet in part based on the biblical narrative. God seems to hold a special place in his heart for the poor, and we can add to that, the down and out. And what evidently was happening in a situation James was addressing is that the rich who were actually oppressing the poor were being favored, while the oppressed poor were pushed aside (see the context in link above, and James 5).

There ought to be no discrimination, distinctions drawn only because of biblical priorities such as justice and mercy. There is nothing inherently ungodly about being wealthy, yet such wealth makes one responsible to do good and be generous, particularly to those less fortunate. And not just in the way of handouts, but in a nondiscriminatory fashion, to those who are poor as equals so as to help them flourish according to their giftedness. And to help those who actually are not able to help themselves.

In the end everyone should be seen not only as on equal ground as sinners in need of grace before the cross, but also as sharing God’s gift each has to all the others, receiving and giving. So that there’s no room for evil thoughts about each other, but only a heart of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, worked out in concrete actions. In and through Jesus.

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

at the heart of the gospel

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 1

It’s a little less than six months until Advent, but there’s never an inappropriate time to reflect on its beauty and meaning in the coming of the Messiah. Jesus comes as King, but in a way unlike that of the rulers and authorities of earth. He came and will come, and now comes by the Spirit through the gospel, and he comes to reign. In that reign is most certainly salvation, along with judgment, and from that, justice.

Israel is at the heart of this promise, receiving mercy from God ultimately to extend mercy to others. And Jesus himself is the fulfillment of what God promised to Israel and through Israel to the world.

And this gospel involves a shaking up which in part is the dealing with sin in each individual, including the high and mighty. This kingdom is for the humble, the poor, and the oppressed. The rich must beware, because unless their pockets are open in generosity, they will end up empty.

Mary’s Song is a shorthand for much of what we read in the Bible. The gospel is political, but not like the politics of this world. But don’t be mistaken, it does deal with the politics of this world ultimately, when Jesus returns. And somehow by Christ even now through the church impacts the rulers and authorities, both physical and spiritual.

A missing note I believe all too often in our understanding of the gospel.

For two outstanding reads on this, see Scot McKnight’s, The Real Mary, and The King Jesus Gospel.

doing well with money

In the evangelical world in which I inhabit, Dave Ramsey is a kind of folk hero, almost. There is no doubt he has plenty of good wisdom and commonsense to offer when it comes to money, both for the young and old. He does so from a certain kind of biblical perspective, which I think does some justice to parts of the biblical picture, even if it doesn’t sufficiently take in the whole. Others offer counsel among similar lines with some differences. What I do like about Ramsey is how he helps people get out of debt and hopefully avoid it. With the simple yet powerful maxim: Don’t spend more than you take in. And with suggested strategies and practices to implement that. What I don’t agree with is some of his generalizations about debt and the poor. Yes, there generally is an upward mobility for those who come to Christ and seek to live with integrity. But no, not everyone who is in that category is going to avoid serious difficulties. Unfortunately people can take my last statement here and rationalize their way to making bad choices, not making the better, hard choices along the way.

We would have been far better off if I would have listened to the wisdom of my wife. Back during the time when I considered myself the head, I didn’t listen well to her. Most of the time when we’ve disagreed, she has been right, a solid majority of the time in fact. Like for example when I was trying to pay up for seminary, and instead of applying for a grant which somehow I didn’t think I deserved, or trusting the Lord to provide (and going from there) as my wife suggested, no, I had to pay it off with my credit card. And other bad decisions I made along the way, not knowing what I was doing, and the result. Of course it is difficult to climb out of debt.

Unfortunately debt  cannot always be avoided. Sickness, job loss, lack of insurance (in these United States, though that currently is changing, even if not all that well) can push a family over the cliff and into financial difficulty and even ruin. Contrary to what Dave Ramsey seems to suggest (I hope I’m mistaken, and I would think he sees exceptions to the rule. To his credit he always is gracious and has advice for everyone) the poor aren’t always poor for a reason reflecting badly on themselves. Other factors are often at work. True too with those who are in the middle and upper class.

The most important thing I think that can be said in regard to money and everything else is simply this: Follow Jesus. Be in scripture, listen to those who give advice, and above all mark well the words of our Lord. Seek to live life with God’s righteousness and kingdom in view and as the goal in and through Jesus. Let wealth be beside the point of that. Let’s be generous with what we do have. And yes, let’s not incur needless debt. Do trust the Father to provide, and be led by him and grow in faith in that way.

We need to pour our lives into what lasts beyond this life. As we do we find that the good that comes from that is not only good for the life to come, but for life in the present, as well. And we need to remember that we are all in this together. We need to help each other in ways that will help us grow and mature in our life in Christ. And part of that will be how we handle worldly wealth.