James 2:1-7 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?
“If you judge people you have no time to love them” – Mother Teresa
One of the speakers for our recent Youth Gathering was the Rev. Andrena Ingram. She’s the pastor at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. When she was speaking on Saturday night, she shared an experience she has while at the Gathering.
Rev Ingram and her son were looking for a place to eat late in the afternoon after they had arrived in New Orleans. She stopped a man and a young woman – Gathering participants – to ask where she could find a restaurant.
The man was busy looking at something on his cell phone and didn’t respond. She repeated her question twice. At that point, the girl happened to look down and saw Rev. Ingram’s wristband – all Gathering participants, speakers, musicians, volunteers, everyone, had a wristband. She exclaimed, “Look! She’s one of us!”
At that point, the man looked away from his phone, apologized for being busy on his phone and gave the names and directions to several nearby restaurants.
She said that she wondered later, “Really? Because my band identified me as ‘one of us.’”
I don’t know what was going on. Maybe that man was just so engrossed in what he was doing that he was oblivious to anything around him. Possible, but it’s more likely that the man saw an African-American woman and boy approach him and assumed that they were – street people? Someone asking for a handout? Someone wanting to run one of the scams which we were warned that some locals do? If it has been a white woman and boy, would the same thing have happened?
I don’t know.
I do know that we all do this – we all judge based on appearances, and act according to our fear and preconceived ideas about types of people.
I do know that I have done this very thing:When I was in seminary, I worked some evenings at the library. When my shift was over, I would go out to Main Street and cross over to the ‘married’ housing. Now, the seminary was located on the edge of a pretty nice, affluent neighborhood. But across the bridge over the creek that defined the west edge of this neighborhood was one of the poorest neighborhoods in town with a very high crime rate. I probably don’t need to tell you that the seminary neighborhood was primarily white and the poor neighborhood was primarily African-American.
Ok, now picture me, with my book bag and cell phone and computer standing on the corner of busy Main Street at night waiting for the ‘walk’ signal.
Just me. Alone.
I notice a couple of people walking up. Young men. In hoodies and jeans. You can imagine what’s going through my mind. They get closer and I’m pretty sure they are African- American. Gang members? Was I going to get robbed? I clutched my book bag tighter and hoped the light would change so I could cross the street to safety.
Oh – I forgot to mention. The seminary is right next to a college, where there are a lot of young men attending. Young men, some of whom happen to be African-American, or even international students. And just on the other side of the bridge is the closest grocery store where we all shopped.
These young men were students at the college going back to their dorms from a grocery run.
Changes the perspective doesn’t it?
“If you judge someone, you have no time to love them.”
Some thoughts to ponder:
Both above examples are distinctions based on race? What distinctions do you make about people?
James focuses on the distinctions between rich and poor, and the tendency we have to show special favor to the wealthy and powerful. Where do you see this distinction in action today?