By Ellen Nimmo
Treat everyone with equal respect. Don’t show partiality to the wealthy.
Most of us would say that we agree with those statements, we value them. But do we live by them? After all, who among us hasn’t sought favor, given special attention to, or indulged in flattery of persons of power and influence, persons of riches and wealth? We do it through our Instagram feeds, in the way we speak to those with wealth vs. those without, we do it in the way we do (or don’t) answer emails, in the way we spend our money, in the way we choose who to talk to in a crowded room, and even in the way we vote, dine, admire, and who we try and sit near at church.
Still, if we say we value the ideal of impartiality, why are we so often fooled into doing its precise opposite?
As my friend and co-laborer Kelly illuminated a few weeks ago, the Sacred Season of Lent can be a time of repentance and recalibration. Reckon I’d even go so far as to argue that wherever there is repentance, from a sincere heart, the act itself is recalibration. And because I think there’s reasonable evidence to believe that the Biblical Jesus was and is a Divine Being, I take the words of James in James 2: 1- 13 seriously. Those verses address this issue of partiality and James writes it is an evil practice to show favoritism to the rich (v.4).
Since we’re here, in the heart of Lent, it serves as an opportunity for me to do just what Kelly suggested, what the Sacred Season beckons: repent and be recalibrated. If it is okay, I’ll do it now, here with you.
Lord, forgive me. I have been tempted. Fooled. Pride has set a snare for me and found its prey. I have allowed my soul, which has been redeemed in your Name by the life and death of Jesus, to be deceived. Thinking that the partiality I’ve shown to those with worldly riches would somehow be of service to the coming glory of your Kingdom. A Kingdom where no moth or rust will destroy. A Kingdom of pleasures forevermore. A Kingdom free from sin and death. Forgive me. The splendor of heaven I made small in those moments of favoritism, elapsed in a capsule of selfishness and greed. Making distinctions among your creation, deciding for myself who deserves attention, favor, and praise. Thank you for giving me the gift of repentance, for recreating me in Your mercy which triumphs over judgement. Keep my eyes fixed on You, the author and perfector of my faith. Give me the grace I need to love my neighbor, whether rich or poor. Knowing the judgement, the power, the kingdom, the glory is yours alone. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Did that sound weird to you? It felt weird for me to write and weird for me pray too. Even believing what I believe, knowing what I know, and valuing what I value, I still don’t want to admit that this kind of partiality is really that big of a deal. Doesn’t Jesus know that it’s how things get done down here? If this was heaven I think I could go along without showing partiality, but this is the real world, Jesus. Wealthy people really do have more to offer, right? They really do have the power to do more for me than the poor person, Jesus, don’t you see? If I don’t treat them with partiality, someone else will, and there goes my chance to make a bigger impact, Jesus. There goes the opportunity to improve a life, thanks a lot man.
Sounds pretty silly doesn’t it?
If I truly believe that God Almighty sent his Son to live and die and rise again – shouldn’t I expect his methods to be a little other-worldly too? Sending your child to die? What sort of bonkers God is that anyway? Well, Scriptures say: One of Power; One of eternal Love for his Creation; One who doesn’t let the unrighteousness of the world get in the way of His everlasting Kingdom which will be made holy and glorious through the humble work of His perfectly obedient child, Jesus.
Jesus himself had some things to say about the way we human ought to treat one another, and in particular, the poor. By anyone’s accounting, Jesus had a heart for those who lacked material wealth, and he knew how difficult it was for the rich to submit their wealth and hearts to him. Indeed he says, in Matthew 19:24, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
My guess is, even the rich among us don’t feel like Jesus is talking to us. He must mean someone richer, surely. But so many of us have been given more than we need, if we have the eyes to see. His disciples seemed to have caught on asking, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus makes it clear, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Growing up in and out of Protestant churches, in and out of belief, in and out of seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity, I never thought too long or hard on the idea of Lent. But this year feels different. While I am cautious not to let religiosity (ritual for rituals sake) overtake my faith (trust in God), I do feel this heightened awareness for the spiritual disciplines that, if used in conjunction with belief, work to transform my heart which is so prone to wander. As I contemplate the Letter of James, the dangers this kind of preference elicits, I am thankful for a season that reminds me, all are equal before the Law and Mercy triumphs over Judgement, in Jesus.