Opening the Word: The challenge of James


James speaks directly — too directly for us, who perhaps like to soften the claims of the Gospel.

“My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas 2:1).

No partiality. If a man comes in with gold rings and the finest of clothes (or in our case, a new BMW with a polo shirt from Vineyard Vines), you should treat him exactly as you would treat a man lacking these things.

Now, you would treat both persons as created in the image and likeness of God. Both persons as sons and daughters redeemed by Jesus Christ, baptized in the blood of the lamb once slain.

But no preference.

The rich man shouldn’t get premium seating at Mass or the special attention of the pastor. If anything, as St. James implies, you should give more attention to the poor man. You should laud his presence, rejoice that Jesus Christ has become present among you in the hungry and thirsty.

James speaks directly.

Do we want to listen?

Our age is no different than every era of salvation history. The prophet Isaiah spends a good deal of his book chastising the people of Israel for forgetting the God who bends down in love to the vulnerable. Isaiah reminds them and now us that when the eyes of the blind are opened, when the deaf hear, when those on the margins are no longer marginal, the day of salvation is at hand.

Jesus’ healings are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promises. Jesus opens the ears of the man without hearing, who cannot speak.

God is at work, lifting up the lowly.

And yet, we still fall prey to the damnable forgetfulness of our Old Testament forebears. To those who rejected Jesus for his refusal to play power politics.

We have galas, where we invite the rich and powerful of our diocese, forgetting to leave a table for those who hunger and thirst.

We educate the kids in our parish who have the money for Catholic schooling, sometimes failing to remember those who live from paycheck to paycheck.

We create power structures in our parish, made up of the well-to-do, the respectable folks who are polished and secure in their identity.

We often ignore those in our community with intellectual and physical disabilities, regularly failing to give them access to the sacraments because they are not like other seven-year-olds.

“My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (Jas 2:1).

James’ words are an invitation to a common discernment of the People of God: every bishop, including the pope and the College of Cardinals, every priest, every deacon and every baptized son and daughter of Jesus Christ.

And they’re hard words to ponder.

It’s nicer to be around the rich and the powerful. There are patent rewards for showing favor to the BMW-driving, Vineyard Vines clergy or parishioner.

We get nice dinners.

We feel important.

You don’t get that reward for welcoming the homeless man or woman in from the cold.

No one gives you money because you take extra time with those on the margins.

But this, dear friends, is the Gospel that Jesus Christ has come not only to announce but make present.

The mystery of a love that shows no preference, which invites every man and woman into the prodigal kingdom of a God who shows his power through an unimaginable mercy.

James speaks directly.

Will we listen?

September 5 – Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 35:4-7
Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
Jas 2:1-5
Mk 7:31-37


This article comes to you from Our Sunday Visitor courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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