September 9, 2018 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
September 9, 2018
Fr. George Smiga
It is important for us to understand why the author of the letter of James is so adamant that we show no partiality in our treatment of one another. In the vivid scene that he presents, two men enter a Christian gathering. One is a rich man wearing rings of gold. The other is a poor man, shabbily dressed. James becomes upset because the community makes a big fuss over the wealthy man giving him a place of honor while they ignore the poor man, and tell him to stand off by the side by himself. What is the issue of treating these two people differently? It is not one of common courtesy. It is not even one of judging people by externals. What the issue is for James is a proper understanding of God. We are to show no partiality in our dealing with one another because God shows no partiality in dealing with us.
Sometimes people say that all religions are the same. This is not true. Different religions give us different descriptions of who God is. The Jewish Christian tradition has some very specific things to say about God. The book of Deuteronomy says that the God of Israel has no favorites and accepts no bribes. But rather God exercises justice for the orphan and the widow and welcomes the foreigner. This means that our God accepts the value of every human person—not only the rich but also the poor, not only the friend but also the stranger, not only the saint but also the sinner. Jesus embraced this impartial view of God and made it a cornerstone of his teaching.
The same truth is expanded in Catholic moral teaching that states that every human person has an inherent value that cannot be erased by failure or sin. God has given to every person an inherent worth that cannot be ignored. This is why the action of James’ community was so unchristian. They accepted the worth of the wealthy man but ignored the value of the poor man.
Now of course the challenge for you and me is that we are called to see others as God sees them. This can be very difficult because we tend to equate worth with worthiness. But the worth of every human being is a gift that cannot be earned or lost. It flows directly from the hand of God. It is easy for us to see the worth of an innocent child but much more difficult to see that a convicted murderer in prison also maintains a human dignity. It is simple for us to see the worth of our family members but much harder to see why we should respect immigrants who wish to live among us. We do not question the value of a lifelong friend but struggle to believe that there is worth in an enemy who has hurt us.
Yet the teaching of Jesus is clear. Sinners are forgiven. The poor are blessed. Strangers are welcome. This is not the way our society sees things. It is not always the way that we see. But it is the way that God sees. And that is the point.