“Who’s Your Favorite?”
September 09, 2018*
By Pastor John Partridge
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 Mark 7:24-37 James 2:1-17
A quick quiz.
Which of you were the teacher’s pet?
Which of you were Mom’s favorite? Or, Dad’s favorite?
How many of you can identify, at work, the one person that sucks up to the boss and who, as a result, may or may not be the favorite?
We have names for people who are the favorite. We may get jealous of others when they are the favorite, but when it occasionally happens to us, it can be kind of nice.
But we have favorites of our own. That’s why, among all our friends, we have “best friends.” We have favorite churches, and favorite pastors, favorite restaurants, favorite ice cream flavors, favorite foods, favorite places, favorite soft drinks, favorite candy bars, and all kinds of other things.
But there is danger here.
Simply because we are so accustomed to playing favorites, we are also prone to do so when we really shouldn’t. We know that as parents, we shouldn’t have a “favorite” child, but many of us probably do anyway. And the same thing is true spiritually. Scripture provides clear warning that we need to be careful.
We begin in the book of Proverbs where we find all sorts of reliable “rules of thumb” that can often be used to guide our lives. (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)
22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
2 Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.
8 Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.
9 The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court,
23 for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.
Obviously, the specific warning that we find here is to remember that all of us are loved by God regardless of our economic circumstances. Our natural reactions are to be a little in awe of people who have more than we do, perhaps to even be a little star struck by them, to want to be like them, and therefore tend to take their side in disputes, or at least, to stay out of a dispute that involves them. At the same time, we tend to look down on people who have less than we do, to accuse them of being lazy or not working hard enough. We don’t like people who don’t dress as well as we do, or who smell bad, or drive fifteen-year-old rust buckets. We judge people who are missing teeth and can’t afford dentures or a trip to the dentist.
This isn’t something that came to us as adults. We learned this from adults and from our peers when we saw how people treated the kids who couldn’t afford band camp, or who couldn’t pay for the class trip, or even go to Cedar Point or Kings Island, Kennywood Park, or even to the movies with the rest of our friends. Our prejudice, and bias against the poor began early. But that isn’t the example that we have from Jesus. In Mark 7:24-37, we hear two stories of Jesus’ healing. And the people that he healed, were not the people that one would necessarily expect.
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The woman in the story was Greek. A foreigner, an outsider, and a Gentile. The Jewish people lived alongside of the Greeks and did business with them when the occasion demanded it, but at the same time, considered them to be unclean. Jesus even compares helping her with giving the meal intended for your children to the dogs. But her answer shows great faith. The woman essentially tells Jesus that she knows that his power, and the power of his God, is so great that what she was asking was of no more consequence than the crumbs left under the table after dinner.
And Jesus heals her daughter.
In the second story, someone brings a man to Jesus who is deaf and who can barely speak. In that society, it is most likely that this man was destitute. It would have been difficult for a deaf man who could not communicate to find work, or to keep it. The odds are good that he relied upon the generosity of his family, friends, and community for his very survival. But Jesus doesn’t count that against him. Jesus was the man who spent his time with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and outsiders. He was the one who spoke with, touched, cared about, healed, and loved lepers from whom everyone else would run away. And Jesus was also the person that criticized the rich and the powerful and was so brutal in his estimation of them that he made enemies that would seek to end his life.
And with that in mind, Jesus’ brother James also draws special attention to this same subject and spells out what Jesus’ example should mean to us. In James 2:1-17 we hear these words:
2:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Much like our own, the culture in which James lived valued rich people and looked down on the poor. In fact, Roman culture ran on a system of patronage in which, to get ahead, people put themselves under the influence of wealthier people, helped those wealthy people to make more business contacts, look good in front of others, and get even wealthier. In return, the wealthy people, or patrons, introduced you to more important and influential contacts, helped you grow your business and get wealthier yourself. Wealthy patrons were the ones who donated the money to build monuments, or even paid to have major buildings constructed. King Herod built major improvements to the entire city of Paneas and renamed it Caesarea Philippi to honor his patron Caesar Augustus. As if that wasn’t enough, Herod also built almost the entirety of the new city of Caesarea Maritima (in which many of the buildings were so opulent\ that they were entirely covered by imported white marble) on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea for the same reason.
This system of patronage was a well-established and rigid system of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” Failing to do what your patron wanted could result in the ruin of everything that you had built. But James fights against the system. He insists that giving preference, or showing favoritism, to the rich, or discriminating against the poor was the same as sitting in judgement of them and therefore taking the place of God. James wants to be sure that we understand that the poor are just as chosen, and just as loved, by God as we are, and just as chosen, and just as loved as the rich are. What James wants to know, and this applies to us just as clearly as it did to those living under the system of Roman patronage, “Why do you show favoritism to the rich, when it’s the rich people that are taking advantage of you?” Aren’t they the ones that are suing you and taking your property? And aren’t they the ones that are blaspheming God and saying horrible things about Jesus?
Instead, James says, we need to listen to the words of scripture. To love our neighbors, rich and poor alike, just as much as we love ourselves. Showing favoritism is sin and condemns us just as if we were murderers. Instead of showing favoritism, James says, we ought to be people who are known for showing mercy. We should speak, and act, like people who will be judged by God.
Having faith without deeds is dead faith and it cannot save you.
The only faith that can save you is a faith that causes you to act like Jesus and to do what Jesus did.
You can’t play favorites.
Don’t tell a hungry person that you’ll pray for them. Feed them.
Don’t send “warm wishes” to a cold person. Give them your coat.
Don’t send “good thoughts” or “positive energy” to the grieving. Comfort them.
…Faith, without action, is dead.
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