No Favortism

Read James 2:1-9

Throughout a person’s life, each of us experience some level of favoritism. Favoritism manifests itself in large and small ways. The first encounter which a person may have is in elementary school at recess time. A friendly game of kickball may be forming and two captains are choosing who will be on each of their teams. Eligible candidates line up while one by one, names are called out alternating from one team to the other. Those viewed as best players are chosen early while lesser players are left standing until the last. Favoritism is part of the winnowing process.

Today we see a warning against favoritism among believers. The writer of the letter of James warns that believers in Christ must never show favoritism in welcoming others into their fellowship. The writer lifts up a commandment from the early law which Jesus states is the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor.” The author says that if favoritism is found among believers, it is a violation of this commandment. Also pointed out here is the often experienced reality that the preferred often bring hardship to the fellowship while the unfavorite bless the fellowship.

Favoritism frequently raises its ugly head in our world. Those who are not considered or treated as favorites feel the sting of rejection. A sense of worthlessness often shrouds the individual. These experiences can impact self value in negative ways. There is, and never has been, any place for favoritism in the fellowship of the Lord. Jesus made this abundantly clear in his ministry. In this epistle, it is made clear once again. Yet from the start of the church until this very day, favoritism continues to be witnessed in every aspect of the church way too often.

Let us take a stand against this type of behavior. We each must work every day to eliminate any favoritism within the fellowships in which we actively participate. The church should be a place of welcome and safety for every and all individuals. Living out the commandment to love your neighbor should have no preferential treatment associated with it. We may all be surprised how we may be blessed by the least favorite.

Avoiding the Pitfall

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12 (NIV)

One of the pitfalls which many celebrities can experience is when they became arrogant or aloof with their notoriety. They come to expect certain types of treatment when they go to restaurants, parties or stores. When they contribute to a charity or do an act of service, they assume they will be noticed and acknowledged in some public manner. Celebrities are not the only ones who can succumb to this pitfall. Ordinary people risk adopting similar attitudes and behaviors if they are given power or status for whatever reason.

In a conversation with his disciples, Jesus calls out this potential pitfall. Jesus warns against following the example of the Pharisees who exalt themselves. They make a public showing of their actions. Instead Jesus tells the disciples to humble themselves and be servants. They are not to take titles or place anyone, including themselves, in the place of the Father or the Messiah. The pitfall of arrogance is to be avoided through conscious humility.

We would do well to listen to Jesus’s warning and instruction. Jesus is not indicating that we show or promote disrespect but instead he is advocating we keep a healthy perspective when it comes to recognition and acknowledgment. We are to avoid assuming that we deserve anything outside the decency and honor any person deserves. Anything more than that should be because others have chosen to offer it and not that we have an expectation for more. Our service to and for others should be done because we are following Christ’s example, not to receive accolades. We should always reserve the places of highest honor in our lives for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Being Fair

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22 (NIV)

Imagine attending an event where there are many vendors who have booths set up in an attempt to sell you their product or services. You might be at a fair, a convention, or a festival. The booths are side by side in multiple rows. There seems to be a variety of products to choose from and some vendors are selling similar products or services. Each vendor tries to entice you to stop so they can convince you why you need what they are offering. The noise and the endless amount of sales pitches can be mind-boggling.

Jesus enters the courts of the temple and witnesses a scene like described above. Added to the vendor booths are booths where the Jews can exchange their Roman money for Jewish denarii. There is a practical side to all of this. First, the Jews were required to use the coin of the occupying government, Romans, for transactions outside the temple. Inside the temple and among Jews, they needed to use denarii for offerings and transactions since that is the money of the Jews. Being able to make exchanges both ways was the job of the money changer. In regard to the animals mentioned here, they were needed to make the required sacrifices as prescribed by Jewish law. Since some Jews had to travel a long distance to the temple, it was often more practical to not bring animals along but instead to purchase them when arriving at the temple. The issue which Jesus raises is the corruption and greed which prevailed among the vendors. The vendors were taking advantage of the people and their needs.

Here we are given a warning and a call to action. The warning comes in how Jesus responds to the vendors. If we are providing necessary services in or out of the community of faith, we must avoid the temptation of allowing greed to enter our transactions with others. Attempts to get ahead or benefit beyond our own needs are not acceptable in the eyes of our Lord. The call to action is in the example Jesus sets here. When we witness greed, corruption, and injustice, we must speak up. We cannot be silent witnesses. We must engage in change. Our call and authority to act is found in the One who allowed the temple to be torn down and raised again in three days.

Patience

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[a] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:11-18 (NIV)

Having patience is not always a strong suit for me. When I have determined to make a purchase, I want the item to be readily available. Afterall, I have done my research and completed my mental gymnastics regarding should I buy or should I pass. Once I decide to buy, I want to do it right then. I also want to take it home immediately. This same mental battle and impatience occurs when I am determining whether to do something or not. Once my course of action is determined, I expect to place everything into motion now and not later. Lucky for me, I have usually had wise individuals in my life who temper my impatience. Perhaps you have a similar impatience.

In the letter of Peter in which we find our passage today, we hear Peter caution the people to have patience. He speaks of the destruction of the old heaven and earth making way for the new heaven and earth. The anticipation of this change appears to make the people extremely eager for its arrival. But the Lord is patient to ensure all are given an opportunity to accept salvation. Since the Lord is patient, the people must also be patient. Peter warns them to not be carried away by the error of those who are not following God’s wisdom. Instead, during this period of waiting they should use it as an opportunity to grow.

Waiting has always been an element of what it means to be God’s people. Throughout the story of God’s people in the Bible, we see many situations in which God’s people have to wait. We also see many times when an individual or group gets impatient and tries to force something to occur or at the very least starts complaining a lot. Examples include Sarai’s wanting a child, the Israelites in the wilderness, David wanting Bathsheba, Judas wishing Jesus would overthrow the Roman oppressors, and others. Human attempts to force God’s hand or taking matters into their own hands never seem to turn out successful. Hence, the warning of Peter to be patient and not lawless.

The season of Advent in the church calendar is all about anticipation and patience. We anticipate the completion of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. The same anticipation which the hearers of Peter’s letter had. After over 1900 years of waiting, we struggle with remaining patient and some distort what Paul, Peter and other messengers of God have said. Yet we know God keeps God’s promises but the timing of their fulfillment belongs to God. Let us heed Peter’s warning and follow his suggestion. May we use this time to not become impatient and strike out on our own but instead grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Be Careful

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.[a] A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 16:1-12 (NIV)

One of the blessings and curses of the time in which we live is the internet. With the introduction of the worldwide web and search engines, we have all types of information available to us almost instantaneously. Being able to search for answers to our questions and having access to all kinds of news from throughout the globe is indeed a blessing. The curses with this are the overload of information bombarding us every second of the day, and the accuracy of the information and news we receive. Human bias and interpretation are always at play. Even media outlets which used to be reliable sources of information insert opinion and slants to all of their reporting these days. But as we see in the verses from Matthew today, this danger is nothing new.

Jesus has another exchange with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They are clamoring for a sign which they hope to use against him. He refuses because he tells them they cannot even understand the signs which are now before them. Then leaving in a boat with his closest disciples, Jesus gives a warning to the disciples to be careful of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples misinterpret Jesus’s warning because they are focused on the bread which they forgot. After Jesus addresses their worry, he reiterates his warning. Now the disciples understand that the yeast which Jesus mentioned in his warning was actually the teachings and information. The ability of this information to change and inflate a person’s thinking can be a problematic influence.

There is a lot of information readily available in the world today. In the midst of all that information is truth and lies. The warning which Jesus gave the disciples is even more important for us today. We have witnessed how information can impact the way people think and act. When this information is designed to mislead or misinterpret, it can have a damaging result. Jesus’s warning reminds us to be cautious when receiving information. Know the source of the information. Crosscheck what you read or hear. Discuss the information with others, especially some who have a different point of view. If what you are receiving is in regard to faith and theology, make sure that it is in agreement with what you understand to be the nature of the Lord. Heed Jesus’s warning today and take the time to be cautious.