Weekly Bible Devotional
“Change the World: Welcome the Stranger”
Scripture for Sunday: James 2:1-9
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Notes on the Text:
James is a collection of teachings about the way Christians should live and behave. It is part of the wisdom literature because it focuses on living by God’s wisdom instead of our earthly wisdom. It was addressed to churches in crisis where earthly wisdom led people to discrimination and bigotry in the church. That kind of behavior reflected the values of society instead of the values of the kingdom of God. The content of this book is concerned with practical Christianity, with “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.” This is not just about personal piety or doing good deeds in private life. To James, the church existed to also be engaged in public life! The indication of one’s faith is real is action and not speech. Anybody can talk about Jesus. But true discipleship comes from action. This action is specifically about helping those who are most needy in society. The book of James has a list of such people: the economically poor, the oppressed, the sick, the orphans, the widows and so on. It is always good to remember that since its inception, the Church has had to be reminded of the importance of focusing on God’s wisdom which defies and transforms our norms, ideas, and expectations. This is not just a modern-day problem. What James identified as the wisdom of the world is such a deeply entrenched temptation for human beings. Welcoming those who are rich or powerful was and still is one of the traps of our egos. The writer uses the example of someone walking in while wearing fines clothes and expensive jewelry and how people would react to that person showing them preferential treatment based on their material wealth.
A sign of true faith is the ability to show no partiality, no preference for those who are rich or powerful. The royal law of James was about God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves. We often put limits on who is our neighbor, but we have to remember Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” It was found in the story he told about the Samaritan man who fulfilled the royal law of love by helping the stranger while the religious folk failed to do so. The Samaritan who was supposed to be the enemy of the Jews, the ultimate stranger, ended up being the hero of the story in order to break down all the barriers humans put on who is to be considered a neighbor!
We continue this week our “Change the World” series with a focus on the power of welcoming the stranger for accomplishing God’s dream for the world. The theme of welcoming the stranger is so prominent in the Bible and in life. Most of the key biblical stories were about people moving from one place to another. It starts with the first humans leaving their home in the garden of Eden and it ends with a vision of a new Jerusalem in Revelation where humanity is redeemed and transformed to live in peace in the city of God. Key biblical figures like Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were all people who journeyed and knew firsthand what it felt like to be a stranger. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the infant Jesus and his parents became political refugees when Jesus was born, and Herod ordered the killing of all infant boys. Being a stranger is one of the most common experiences for human beings. At one point on another we all experience being a stranger. It starts when we are born into this world and our new family welcomes us. In many of our human experiences we depend on others to help us and to welcome us. Think of when we don’t experience that welcome and inclusion. Whether it is because of fear, anger, or pain, the result is the same: We feel the sting of not being welcomed. Sometimes our lives even depend on that welcome. Depending on God’s wisdom is key to our success in fulfilling our purpose as human beings. Living by the wisdom of the world/the ego leads us to feel separate from God and from others. We need reminders of the power of living by the wisdom of connection and love.
I would like to invite you this week to consider how you are called to fulfill God’s royal law by welcoming the stranger. There is a lot of fear in our world and much of it is centered around “the other” or “the stranger.” Political divisions, news stories, and even our own opinions are often focused on this fear. Creating communities and spaces of hospitality in our lives and in our own communities can bring so much healing to this pain. Last night, I had the honor of visiting St. Anthony’s Activity Night here in Batavia. I loved how a space of hospitality is created by a Christian community to bring hope and healing to a neighborhood that is often seen as “drug-infested, poor, hopeless, and violent.” Seeing and experiencing the welcome that St. Anthony’s extended to their neighbors were signs of God’s love made visible through the power of welcoming the stranger to become friends and community.
Here are some inspirational words from Dorothy Day, “A custom existed among the first generations of Christians, when faith was a bright fire that warmed more than those who kept it burning. In every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called ‘the stranger’s room.’ Not because these people thought they could trace something of someone they loved in the stranger who used it, not because the man or woman to whom they gave shelter reminded them of Christ, but because—plain and simple and stupendous fact—he or she was Christ…All Christians are called to be hospitable, but it is more than serving a meal or filling a bed, opening our door-it is to open ourselves, our hearts, to the needs of others. Hospitality is not just shelter, but the quality of welcome behind it.”
The “Change the World” quest for next week is to find a group in our community that welcomes the stranger and to see how we are called to participate in that welcome. I pray that God will guide your feet and open your eyes and hearts to how you can be an agent of welcome in the world!
Prayer by Joyce Rupp:
We are grateful for biblical compassionate persons
Renowned for their all-embracing hospitality.
Their generous welcome inspires and encourages
our own WELCOMING of those most in need
of food, clothing, lodging and visitation.
We are especially grateful for the example
of Abraham and Sarah who received strangers,
Pharaoh’s daughter who brought Moses to her home,
Elizabeth who greeted Mary of Nazareth with joy,
Lydia of Philippi who offered hospitality to the disciples,
And Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany
In whose house Jesus found the gift of friendship.
We pray to grow stronger and live more fully
The vital qualities of hospitality: kindness, non-judgment,
Understanding, generosity, acceptance and good cheer.
When our time and presence is required in welcoming others
May we do so without grumbling or regret.
We remember the two on the road to Emmaus
who were welcomed by the risen Christ.
He drew them close with compassion
and lifted their spirits with kindness.
As they sat at table in the breaking of the bread
their disappointed hearts began to heal. Amen.