James 2:1-13

Tonight we will be gathering to read through James 1:19-2:13.  James 2:1-13 on respecting the poor and the prohibition on showing partiality to the rich is the first real teaching we encounter in the letter. As we enter this first teaching there are three literary devices that we encounter. First, James begins this teaching with the word “brother” meaning fellow member of the community. James uses this word 15 times in his letter usually to introduce a new topic or to signal a slight change in the current topic. James’ use of this word emphasizes that his teaching is for the entire community and not simply a segment.

The second literary aspect we see in this section is that James is teaching (pedagogical) not arguing (polemical). Paul is polemical. In his letters, Paul argues and attacks specific behaviors, ideas, or people. As we saw in Galatians, Paul goes to war against the teaching that a Christian must obey the Mosaic Law. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are simply him addressing one specific problem after another in that specific community. On the other hand, James is not addressing a specific problem in a specific congregation. Rather, like Proverbs or Sirach, James is addressing problems common throughout any community and particularly those communities claiming to be followers of Jesus.

Finally, notice how James employs rhetorical questions in his argument which necessarily evoke an affirmative response. These questions force the reader (or hearer) of the letter to answer the questions for themselves. This rhetorical device allows his audience to buy into his argument. (In law school they teach us the same technique.  No one wants to be told what to believe, and so a good legal argument lays down these types of breadcrumbs allowing the judge or jury to come to the correct conclusion on their own.)

Substantively, James’ teaching of respect for the poor and not showing partiality to the rich has always been a problem. The Hebrew Scriptures constantly speak about taking care of the marginalized in one’s community and treating the poor equitably and justly. (See, e.g., Ex. 22:22, Amos 5, Psalm 72). We encounter this same theme in the Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-55) and in Jesus’ upbraiding of the Pharisees for seeking partiality (Luke 11:43) and in the various teachings against seeking status (e.g., Luke 14:11).  And throughout church history, there are those who have constantly called the church to obedience to this teaching from St. Francis to the early Methodist in our own Anglican tradition. If we have time tonight, we will discuss how the Church today still runs afoul of James’ teaching and what things we can do to bring this teaching into our own communities.

Finally, James makes the connection between shunning partiality and the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. v.8. This connection, however, does not originate with James but goes back to Leviticus.  James’ word for “partiality” is the same word and the same sentiment utilized in Leviticus 19:15 (LXX) which requires that judgments should be impartial. Within that same teaching in Leviticus (Lev. 19:18), God sets forth the teaching “to love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”  In other words, to show partiality is to be unloving, and to show partiality is an affront to God.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is lasagna. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here. Please bring a friend.

Give the King your justice, O God, *
 and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
That he may rule your people righteously *
 and the poor with justice;
That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
 and the little hills bring righteousness.
He shall defend the needy among the people; *
 he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

Psalm 72:1-4

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