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BIBLICAL PAGES

by Fr Giuseppe Fabbrini

LECTIO

on the Church as the People of God

 

5. James 2:1-13

Introduction

The Church as the ‘People of God’
St James presents to the People a very common, scandalous issue: the little regard paid to the poor and the too high esteem the rich are held in. In this respect, we too have to examine our conscience. In our own Liturgies, whom shall we give the best seats to? Which distinctions do we make between the poor and the rich? What we should say and do in this respect should be informed by the commandment of love. Do we really obey it in all situations and with all people without distinctions?

Lectio

James 2:1-13
1 My brothers, do not let class distinction enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord.
2 Now suppose a man comes into your synagogue, well-dressed and with a gold ring on, and at the same time a poor man comes in, in shabby clothes,
3 and you take notice of the well-dressed man, and say, ‘Come this way to the best seats’; then you tell the poor man, ‘Stand over there’ or ‘You can sit on the floor by my foot-rest’.
4 In making this distinction among yourselves have you not used a corrupt standard?
5 Listen, my dear brothers: it was those who were poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.
6 You, on the other hand, have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who lord it over you?
7 Are they not the ones who drag you into court, who insult the honourable name which has been pronounced over you?
8 Well, the right thing to do is to keep the supreme Law of Scripture: ‘You will love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lv 19:18);
9 but as soon as you make class distinctions, you are committing sin and under condemnation for breaking the Law.
10 You see, anyone who keeps the whole of the Law but trips up on a single point, is still guilty of breaking it all.
11 He who said, ‘You must not commit adultery’ said also, ‘You must not kill’. (Ex 20:3, 14) Now, if you commit murder, you need not commit adultery as well to become a breaker of the Law.
12 Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom.
13 Whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy but mercy can afford to laugh at judgement.

Meditatio

1 My brothers, do not let class distinction enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord.
The faith which is the basic feature of the Lord’s disciples as well as of the whole People of God, should not be informed by mundane considerations such as personal favouritism. The ‘friends of the friends’ are not suited to the People of God! The People has nothing to do with a Mafia attitude.

2 Now suppose a man comes into your synagogue, well-dressed and with a gold ring on, and at the same time a poor man comes in, in shabby clothes,
3 and you take notice of the well-dressed man, and say, ‘Come this way to the best seats’; then you tell the poor man, ‘Stand over there’ or ‘You can sit on the floor by my foot-rest’.
4 In making this distinction among yourselves have you not used a corrupt standard?

Here St James presents a very effective example: to invite a rich man or someone who distinguishes himself just by his ring or his splendid garments, to go and sit in the best seats; and to invite the poor man in shabby clothes to sit on the floor by the foot-rest. This is a preference given to status. This implies passing judgement. This judgement is unjust, as it is not based on the effective value of the person but on his status. In fact, dignity is equal both in the rich and the poor; it precedes status. We are aware of it and we talk about it. However, do we really apply this principle in real life? Do we really apply this principle within the People of God? I wonder whether an elderly lady coming to Mass with much sacrifice is on a par with a Cardinal. Whether the unlearned is on a par with the professor. In the People of God each and everybody (from the Pope to the last one of the baptised) must have the same dignity. Of course, this has nothing to do with ‘office’ or ‘service’.

5 Listen, my dear brothers: it was those who were poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith and to be the heirs to the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.
Here St James implores his brethren: Listen, my dear brothers! The behaviours quoted above are just the opposite of God’s feelings and behaviour. In fact, He has chosen the poor (those whom the world is not interested in; those who count for nothing). God is interested in them. According to God’s point of view, the man who wears a ring or splendid garments should not be deemed ‘rich’. Rich are all those who have been enriched by faith by God Himself. Faith is a gift, the heritage promised to those who are able to love God. The poor are able to love God for real, and God enriches them with faith.

6 You, on the other hand, have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who lord it over you?
7 Are they not the ones who drag you into court, who insult the honourable name which has been pronounced over you?

St James enumerates the behaviours of the rich: they lord it over the poor; drag them into court; insult “the honourable name” of God (therefore, they do not love God): this is the Name of Jesus invoked on the person at Baptism. They are people who do not care about anything and anybody, God included. In fact, they do count on their own possessions and power, not on true values.

8 Well, the right thing to do is to keep the supreme Law of Scripture: ‘You will love your neighbour as yourself’ (Lv 19:18);
9 but as soon as you make class distinctions, you are committing sin and under condemnation for breaking the Law.

If the Christians dishonoured the poor and favoured the rich in their own assemblies, they would trespass God’s commandment, according to which we have to love our neighbour as ourselves. It would be equally wrong to love the poor and to give preference to the rich. That would be a trespass of God’s commandment too.

10 You see, anyone who keeps the whole of the Law but trips up on a single point, is still guilty of breaking it all.
11 He who said, ‘You must not commit adultery’ said also, ‘You must not kill’. (Ex 20:3, 14) Now, if you commit murder, you need not commit adultery as well to become a breaker of the Law.

St James reinforces the idea by stating that anyone who trips on a single point is guilty of breaking the whole Law and cannot be deemed an ‘upright man’. It is all or nothing. God’s Word in the commandments is one, as well as His will: they cannot be subdivided. The Decalogue shows the indivisible will of God.

12 Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom.
13 Whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy but mercy can afford to laugh at judgement.

St James cares about both speech and deeds. Both of them must be upright. “Talk” (“exhort one another”) and “behave”: one day you will be judged by the law of freedom (that is, God’s revelation through Jesus). Right and wrong, as far as speech and deeds are concerned, will be judged according to the commandment of love. And there will be no mercy to the unmerciful.

Conclusions

This passage shows the awareness that belonging to the People of God does not prevent us from living in the real world: it is not an ideology, but rather fullness of life. The People is born from, is guided and inspired by the Word of God. It is not enough to listen to it and to welcome it; it must be put into practice too. Its ‘reverberation’ is witness. The People’s meaning of life is the Word, generating faith. Faith, in its turn, provides a scope and uplifts our everyday lives.

Oratio

The People of God comes to life when those who have personally encountered Christ and are experiencing His presence in their very lives, or put the Word into practice as summarized by the commandment of love, gather together.
Lord, please help us see each and everybody with the eyes of humanity as well as faith.
By our human gaze we can acknowledge each and everybody’s dignity and our common belonging to humankind.
By the gaze of faith, which is God’s very gaze, we can acknowledge that Jesus Christ became incarnate, died and rose again for each and everybody, not just for us.
Then, how can we make differences within the People of God?
How can we love just those who are rich or full of ‘titles’? While, on the other hand, feeling aversion or disgust for the poor or for those who are unworthy according to mundane criteria?
Please purify our gaze, Lord. And when we stand in front of someone, please remind us to look at him with Your very gaze.

Contemplatio

The People of God we are ‘living stones’ of, does not progress thanks to money, degrees, honours. It is nourished by the encounter with Christ, by faith and by our life in faith. Faith is given by God to those who love Him.
Those who love Him, recognize Him, welcome Him, are aware that they are receiving everything from Him. They are aware that they do not possess anything, and that they need everything from Him. They are poor.
In fact, the People of God is made up of poor people. All of them are poor, they all need God. The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of the poor Children of God, contains invocations and requests. It is the one and only prayer that Jesus taught us. It is our very feature.
Then, how can we discriminate between people?
How can we give a seat to the rich and a foot-rest or the floor to the poor?