Jas 2:1-9; Ps 34:2-7; Mk 7:24-30
The LORD hears the cry of the poor. Always and everywhere, whenever the poor cry out the LORD hears and responds. Are we among the poor? Are we blessed? Blessed are the poor the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs! Are we humble enough to admit our poverty even if it is not economic distress? Whether or not we lack resources in this world, we are still poor. Until our only joy and gladness in this world is the assurance that the LORD hears our every complaint, and until our mouths are full of his praise, we are truly poor. Indeed without this kind of truth in the heart, we cannot hear the deepest exaltation of the human heart. Until we humbly admit that without the LORD we have no treasure and we are nothing, we cannot seek and find the LORD who answers and delivers us from all fear. Until we are no longer afraid of not being acceptable in this world, we have not known the unconditional love and acceptance of the LORD. In this Liturgy we are summoned to look to the LORD and find ourselves radiant with joy, then, and only then will our faces not blush with shame. So let us cry out with all the poor and the LORD will hear us and answer us. Saint James reminds us that there is no room for partiality among those who have received the treasure of the Kingdom already in this world. Indeed, those suffering from economic deprivation must always find among us the welcome and wealth of the King of Heaven and Earth. Indeed, in this way we will be thinking the way God does and not the way the world thinks.
The fact that Saint James had to write about proper behavior within the assembly of believers is just a bit embarrassing. Perhaps in more than one gathering of the Church there were some who regularly showed partiality to the well-to-do and distain to the not so well-to-do. The vivid description of noticing the wealthy and all their bling sounds all too familiar. Things haven’t changed all that much. All through history and in every culture there is a natural tendency to favor the rich and ignore the poor. That is why the Gospel is counter cultural, always and everywhere, but is it proclaimed and lived honestly and with integrity, always and everywhere? Economic depravity has the possible advantage of an early recognition of the truth of human nature—we are not necessary beings; we are contingent beings. We depend upon God for our very next breath and the ability to take that next breath. We are totally dependent beings, and yet we are made in the image and likeness of the Almighty God, so we desire an abundant life and an eternal one at that. This painful letter from Saint James does not stop here; he reminds us that when we bend over backward to show partiality to the rich we are under the domination of the rich. We show them how important they are and how much we need their affirmation and assistance. In doing this we live up to the expectations of the world and give no witness to the gospel. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, then we show the same welcome and warmth toward everyone, then and only then do we fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture.
We are the disciples to whom the Lord Jesus addresses this question while we walk along the way from place to place: “Who do people say that I am?” Can there be a more important question? The people are curious about us, and our ways of living in this world. Why follow this Jesus? Why live a counter cultural life-style? Why give this Jesus so much power over our lives? The people try to answer these questions. Some think perhaps it’s because Jesus is a prophet like Saint John the Baptist, or even the great Elijah who is supposed to return from the dead to prepare the world for the coming messiah. It is Saint Peter who has a flash of divine inspiration; as he cries out, “You are the Christ!” Such a truth the world is not ready to hear, and the Lord Jesus warns his disciples to keep it quiet. Before you can make such a claim, the Lord goes on to say that he must suffer greatly, be rejected, killed and rise from the dead after three days. This revelation is too much even for the disciples. Is it too much for us even now, at this time in history? Do we not like Saint Peter try to take the Lord aside and rebuke him? Perhaps we are afraid that such bad news will diminish our ranks? Perhaps we fear the kind of demoralizing affect this prophecy will have on anyone who is thinking about becoming a disciple of the Lord Jesus. Whatever our hesitation to accept this revelation the Lord Jesus tells us to join Saint Peter. Indeed, we must get behind him so that we can better follow after him and learn the way of God, the Way of the Cross.