This is our second trip through James 2:1-12 in as many years, and it’s a passage that comes up in the lectionary (possibly) every third year in the Season after Pentecost. Someone wants us to pay attention, maybe.
The central question for us is probably how we need to take James’ words here as applying to us, and what kind of ethical prescription it IS for us. [For instance: do the rich oppress US? Or drag US into court? And if not – is that a good thing?] That is, what is James telling US to do, if anything?
Some notes on the text are here, and here from a couple of years ago. Here are a couple of additional questions we might want to reflect on, or discuss in class:
It occurs to me that James is describing people we would probably think of as “visitors” if they showed up in church on a Sunday morning. How do we treat visitors? Why? How do we suppose that’s similar to, or different from, the way the early Christians greeted visitors?
[more personal] How do we feel about “meeting new people”? Are there some “new people” we have an easier time meeting than others? Does this have anything to do with what’s going on in James 2? And if so – does this have any meaning for us? What meaning?
What are some of the practical implications of what James is saying about “the rich” and “the poor”? For instance: should we want to be rich ourselves? Or, to be poor? How does this, or should it, affect decision making in a church community? Who, for instance, ought to be called to hold a church office, or to influence church decisions? Who, in our experience, is called to hold church office, etc.?
[more theoretical, but maybe also practical] Will poverty and wealth make a difference in how people can participate in a church community? What kind of difference? And how does the church community need to take that into account, do we think?
The theme of “judging” and “judgment” seems important in this text. Why are Christians not to “become judges”? What seems to be entailed in “judging,” – that is, what is James saying needs to be avoided, what is to be done instead?
[more personal] James envisions a future judgment. Do we, ourselves? How do we relate ourselves to that anticipated future? What difference does it make how we answer this question, do we think?
What do we understand James to mean by “the royal law” and “the law of liberty”?
Is there “law” for Christians, do we think? What law is that? What difference does it make how we answer this question?
[more personal] What are our rules for ethical conduct? That is – what rules do we actually follow? Or, make an effort to follow? Or, not follow? Why? Thoughts, feelings?
Our curriculum has been emphasizing, more or less, elements of these texts that have to do with “choice” (or, we might say, “election” or “calling”). So we may want to consider what God’s choice of the poor to be “rich in faith” and “heirs of the kingdom” means, for the poor, the non-poor, and for us – whether we think of ourselves as poor or otherwise; whether that means that the non-poor have been non-chosen; how this might intersect (if we can be intersectional about this) with other bases for God’s choosing; and what difference it might make what the answers are to these questions.
Image: “Der Plausch am Weg” [the chat on the way], Oswald Achenbach, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons