Saturday, September 05, 2009

James Chapter Two: Show No Partiality

In the New Testament reading for this Sunday James takes the Church to task for showing partiality.

My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:1-5)

I can see it now:

James visits a modern American parish. A couple comes in wearing nice suits and the usher takes them to a pew in the front of the Church. Some people come in wearing faded and ripped blue jeans and the usher puts them in the dark corner in the back.

James starts off with “show no partiality!” Some one points out, “Uuuggghh, excuse me Jimbaby - the couple in the front is barely getting buy and got there suits from the St Vincent DePaul Society. The ones in the back are the richest people in town wearing pre-faded and pre-ripped blue jeans bought at Needless Markups”.

When James the Righteous recovers his poise, he intones: “Show no partiality!”

James is challenging us several ways.

First there is: Justice the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the "virtue of religion." Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. "You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." (Lev 19:15) "Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven." (Col 4:1)Catechism 1807

Notice that Justice is an attitude, a disposition not a state of being or program. The ushers show justice when they show no partiality because wealth or race or irrelevant categories. Of course some categories are relevant such as seeing that a family sits together. How could there be an objective state of being where it could be measured because some people come later and earlier and the ushers could not be expected to know that much detail about every one in the parish. A program that said we will sit the same number of poor middle and wealthy in every pew would require showing extreme partiality and be unjust to families since it is there due to be able to sit together. Showing partiality against the poor, by those in authority, is especially unjust.

Second we are also called to a preferential love for the poor.

In its various forms—material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death—human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere.

Beginning with the Old Testament, all kinds of juridical measures (the jubilee year of forgiveness of debts, prohibition of loans at interest and the keeping of collateral, the obligation to tithe, the daily payment of the day-laborer, the right to glean vines and fields) answer the exhortation of Deuteronomy (15:11): "For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in the land.'" Jesus makes these words his own: "The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me."(John 12:8) In so doing he does not soften the vehemence of former oracles against "buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals . . .," (Amos 8:6) but invites us to recognize his own presence in the poor who are his brethren.
Catechism 2448 -9

This not to be partial to the poor but to see that first that they have what is justly theirs and refrain from doing things that will hurt the poor. Secondly because we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we help the poor as we can but never by committing an injustice against another.


Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?

See also:

What is Social Justice
Scripture Posts
Social Justice Posts

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