Many might think in God’s version of this game, judgement is the big winner when in fact mercy always wins over judgement. This is because God delights to be merciful. However important judgement might be, God in love offers mercy. Indeed, if you love your neighbour as you love yourself, you are more likely to be merciful than judgemental.
James describes a situation where two people come to church. One is clearly wealthy, and the other is dirt poor. James tackles the issue of favouritism saying if you show special attention to the rich man giving him a place of honour, while consigning the poor man to sit on the floor, it is discrimination. James asks, when you do this, have you not … become judges with evil thoughts? Favouritism and discrimination are judgements we make, when really mercy should triumph over judgement.
This earthly discrimination against the poor stands in contrast to the attitude of God who has chosen the poor to be rich in faith. Jesus taught, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) We may tend to think of discrimination or favouritism as a minor issue, but James will not let us do so. He states those who show favouritism are law breakers, akin to murderers, For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. There is no small sin, because even the smallest sin makes us law breakers and separates us from God. This understanding of the seriousness of sin is important to James as he highlights their sins of favouritism and discrimination. They should be ashamed of their behaviour and instead they should have been motivated by love to serve and honour the poor among them.
What difference does this make to us? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ and act lovingly so mercy triumphs over judgment, then our lives will become more Christ‑like. By emphasising the royal law and stressing the need for mercy – James gets down to the nitty gritty of spiritual living. When we decide to love our neighbour as ourselves, we begin to make room in our lives for those we might previously have disregarded or discriminated against.
Do you tend more towards judgement of others or showing mercy to them?
Ask God to open your eyes in the week ahead to see opportunities to act with love and mercy.
Rev John Malcolm