Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
James 2:1-13 (NRSV) 1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
As a Pastor, I determined early in my ministry that there was one thing I would never do–check to see what the individual giving was in my church. Why? Because I did not want anyone in the church to be able to accuse me of treating someone differently because of how much or how little a person gave.
Favoritism is the preferential treatment to one person perhaps because of their position in the community, their wealth, or even the color of their skin. There is nothing inherently wrong with treating someone well because of these things. The error comes in treating someone else poorly who is not wealthy, or dressed properly, or looks different than those around them.
James quickly takes to task those who engage in this type of behavior, particularly if they are Christ followers. I love verse 5 where James points out that God Himself has chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the Kingdom of God. Remember, not just acknowleging the poor but honoring those in poverty is one of the ways Jesus turned the apple cart upside down. Until Jesus came, the prevailing thought was that the poor were being punished and the rich were being rewarded.
The law of grace revealed to us that God is no respecter of person, influenced by neither background nor social standing. (Acts 10:34) Thus, if we pay respect to some over others, then we are breaking the law of grace. For intentional disciples who are seeking holiness, it is essential for us to see people through the eyes of Jesus. How do we, as humans, accomplish this monumental feat? We pray continually that God allows us to see others through His eyes until we can!
One of the most beautiful things I ever witnessed was at a Wednesday night prayer meeting. When the altar call was made, a small, greasy, smelly man walked down the aisle and was immediately embraced by the woman giving the call. His face glowed as though he was being embraced by God himself. From that moment I prayed that I could hold a man like him in just that same way.
A few years ago I was working in a soup kitchen. It was a steamy, hot, rainy day and an African-American made it up the stairs and sat down at the table. I walked over to him and said, “You look like you need a hug,” and with no more words I reached down and held him in my arms. He started crying and said, “You’re holding me???” I replied, “Why not? Aren’t we brothers and sisters in Christ?”
James finishes by saying if we fail to show mercy to others, then we will not receive mercy ourselves. I think of the hymn At Calvary that says,
- Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
- By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
- Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
- Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
Pardon–forgiveness, clemency, mercy. There is nothing like mercy, being spared the judgment we deserve because of the free gift of salvation. Today we can choose to show our neighbor the same love and forgiveness and mercy that God has shown us. Choose love, even if it is not easy–especially if it is not easy. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Father God, there are so many opportunities in our society and in our culture to choose to show love. I pray today that each one of us would see people through Your eyes of grace and love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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