The words from Saint James’ letter in the second reading today couldn’t be clearer, or more challenging. In last week’s passage, James wrote, rather pointedly, that “pure” religion is expressed in caring “for orphans and widows in their affliction,” who were considered the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society at that time. Indeed, giving charity was then, as it is now, central to the mission of Jesus Christ.
But James goes further today when he insists that Christians may not create distinctions among themselves based on economic class or social standing. “Show no partiality,” he says. “[I]f a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,” they are of equal value in the sight of God and should be in our eyes as well.
Once during a Sunday Mass at my last church, several motorcycles roared into the parking lot. I could hear the groans of the assembly, as the tatted-up bikers walked into Mass late. People started shifting in their seats uncomfortably, having made, like myself, an instant judgment about these unexpected intruders. To everyone’s surprise, they took off their helmets, genuflected respectfully, and sat down to worship. They probably had been out for a ride on a Sunday afternoon and were looking for a church somewhere. But we made distinctions and judged them as outsiders who did not belong. Shame on us.
It is not easy for those of us who are comfortable to feel kinship with the poor, who can be dirty, ill-mannered, and even manipulative. Many of us give them a wide berth or even cross the street when they appear in our neighborhoods.
The charge of a Christian steward, however, is not merely to throw money at problems like the poor, but to engage with them personally and somehow, through considerable effort and prayer, see the Christ hidden within them.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
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