Picking Up Strangers Along the Disciple’s Pathway
Once upon a time a couple of serious backpackers were hiking the Appalachian Trail deep in the Smoky Mountains when a large black bear surprised them along the trail. Both parties were so startled that fear caused them to run from each other. As the two hikers ran down the trail, not aware that the bear went the other way, one them stopped abruptly and quickly dropped his pack. He hurriedly kicked off his hiking boots and digging in his backpack at the same time. As his friend ran up from behind him leaned over his companion panting and glancing backward frequently.
“What are you doing?” he said through gasps.
“Getting my tennis shoes on!” the first exclaimed.
In response the slower of the two said, “This is stupid. That bear is gonna catch us if we don’t get going.” “Why are you wasting time putting on tennis shoes?”
“I know; I know” the hiker said as he tied his laces. “That’s why I want to make sure I can outrun you!”
As we travel the discipleship pathway we must be willing to help each other along the Way. Today’s reading reminds us that we are not to show partiality. Not only that, but this is one situation where it’s good to pick up hitchhikers.
READ: James 2:1-26
- The reference to “the twelve tribes that are scattered over the world” (1:1) is our major hint. Also, the inclusion of the letter in the “catholic epistles” (i.e. letters addressed to several churches) reflects its encyclical nature. Obviously one church is not as prominent as a specific though scattered group of individuals and these seem to be Jewish Christians outside of Palestine.
- There are three possible interpretations of the phrase in 1:1:
- Jews—This seems improbable because of the recurrent use of “brethren,” the lack of the major gospel truths about Jesus, as well as the specific mentioning of faith in Christ in 2:1. Also, after the Babylonian Exile, many of the original twelve tribes never returned. The same metaphor is used symbolically of believers in Rev. 7:4-8.
- Christian Jews—This seems to be the most likely because of the Jewish flavor of the book and the leadership position of James in the Jerusalem church.
- The church as spiritual Israel—This is possible because of the use of “diaspora” in I Pet. 1:1 and Paul’s allusion to the church (believing Jews and Gentiles) as spiritual Israel (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:16ff; Gal. 3:29; 6:16; I Pet. 2:5,9).
- An attempt to apply the New Covenant specifically to first century Jewish Christians living in pagan settings.
- Some believe it was wealthy Jews persecuting Christian Jews. It is also possible that the early Christians were subject to anti-Semitic pagan abuse. It was obviously a time of physical need and persecution (cf. 1:2-4,12; 2:6-7; 5:4-11,13-14).
- James 2:1-13 is an expansion of the discussion about the relationship between the rich and poor in 1:9-11,27. B. It is uncertain whether the rich referred to in 1:10-11; 2:6 or 5:1-6 are believers. Possibly they were wealthy Jews, the very ones who persecuted the early Christians. C. Wealth in the OT was a sign of God’s pleasure (cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 27), but later teachings bring the needed balance to this concept (cf. Job, Ps. 73; Matt. 5-7). Poverty even came to be a metaphor for spiritual hunger (cf. Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20). 26 D. The section develops into two related topics: 1. the ways of this age (vv. 1-7) 2. the ways of the coming Messianic Age (vv. 8-13)
- A. James 2:1-13 is an expansion of the discussion about the relationship between the rich and poor in 1:9-11,27.
- It is uncertain whether the rich referred to in 1:10-11; 2:6 or 5:1-6 are believers. Possibly they were wealthy Jews, the very ones who persecuted the early Christians.
- Wealth in the OT was a sign of God’s pleasure (cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 27), but later teachings bring the needed balance to this concept (cf. Job, Ps. 73; Matt. 5-7). Poverty even came to be a metaphor for spiritual hunger (cf. Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20).
- The section develops into two related topics:
- the ways of this age (vv. 1-7)
- the ways of the coming Messianic Age (vv. 8-13)
Favoritism / Prejudice
If one looks at the letter through a different lens it’s possible to see that disfavoring certain persons because of race, status, orientation, dysfunction, etc. is equally evil.
To show partiality toward the rich was to break God’s law (verses 8-11):
8 But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show prejudice, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as violators. 10 For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but you commit murder, you have become a violator of the law. 12 Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. 13 For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.
The royal law commanded God’s people to “love their neighbors as themselves”. Their neighbors included the wealthy and the poor. The “as” means that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We must love our neighbors with the same level of concern and care that we have for ourselves. But in addition to meaning that we must love our neighbors and ourselves equally,
*Context information by Bob Utley East Texas Baptist University, 1996
Invitation to the Lord’s Table
Come to the Lord’s Table, all you who love him.
Come to the Lord’s Table, confess your sin.
Come to the Lord’s Table, be at peace.
Confession of Sin
We have not believed you or trusted in your power.
Lord, help our unbelief.
Silence or testimony of belief.
We have stained our souls by our action and inaction.
Cleanse us, Lord.
Silence or testimony of cleansing.
We are broken by disease, bruised by the sins of others, weakened and unable to repair ourselves.
Heal us, Lord.
Silence or testimony of healing.
We ignore your call to center our lives in you, and so are deaf to the hopes and cries of the poor, the sick, the needy, and the earth.
Ground us, Lord!
Silence or testimony of centering.
When we confess our sinful ways, God abundantly pardons.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven. Glory to God!
By one Spirit we are all baptized into the one body.
Let us then pursue the things that make for peace and build up our common life.
The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be always with you!
And also with you.
Signs of peace may be offered and exchanged.
Thanksgiving and Communion
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to you, Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to praise you, Lord.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing,
Always and everywhere to give thanks to you,
Holy Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
your name is praised among all peoples.
Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with your people on earth
and all the company of heaven
who forever sing this hymn to the glory of your name:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord,
God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full…
Full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the One who comes
In the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna in the highest!
You are holy, Almighty One!
Blessed are you, Jesus Christ!
In the power of the Spirit
you created all things, blessed them, and called them good.
You called to yourself a people
To make your mercy and truth known in all the world.
We betrayed your calling;
You were faithful.
We wandered from the way;
You called us to return, and led us home.
And still we turned from your ways,
abused your creatures,
and made ourselves slaves to sin and death.
At the right time
you came and dwelt among us,
as one of us,
bringing good news to the poor,
healing the sick, raising the dead,
sharing table with the unrighteous,
and teaching the way that leads to life.
By your incarnation, life, suffering, execution and resurrection
You gave birth to your church,
delivered us from slavery
and made a new covenant with us
by water and the Spirit.
On the night of your betrayal, Lord Jesus,
you took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to your disciples and said,
“This is my body which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
You did the same with the cup after the supper, saying,
“This cup that is poured out is the new covenant in my blood.”
Blessed Trinity, in remembrance of all you have done to save us,
we offer ourselves to you in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we sing (proclaim) the mystery of our faith:
Christ has come among us. Christ has died.
Christ has risen. Christ abides with us.
Christ will come again.
Pour out your Spirit on us
Pour out your Spirit on these gifts
Make these gifts the body and blood of Christ
Make us, through them, Christ’s body alive in the world.
Now, with the confidence of God’s children let us pray the words Jesus taught us . . . .
Breaking the Bread
Giving the Bread and Cup
Lord, you now have set your servants free to go in peace as you have promised.
For these eyes of ours have seen the Savior whom you have prepared for all the world to see!
Blessing and honor and glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.
You have seen the Savior. Go now in peace.
And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
One in Three and Three in One,
Go with you.
“A Contemporary Service of Holy Communion” Copyright © 2007 Discipleship Ministries, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003. Worship website: www.umcworship.org. This article may be reprinted and used for nonprofit local church and educational use with the inclusion of the complete copyright citation plus the words “Used by permission.” It may not be sold, republished, altered, used for profit, or placed on another website.