20th February. Thursday, Week Six
1st Reading: James 2:1-9
(Show no favouritism. Love your neighbour as yourself.)
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 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, 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,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
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? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Gospel: Mark 8:27-33
(Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah ; then he is reprimanded for rejecting the Passion prediction.)
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
No one can look at a cross, no matter how ornate, without remembering the painful death of Jesus. Yet the cross is lifted high on our churches and is worn as the sign and emblem of our victory over sin and despair, for Jesus’ resurrection is the pledge of our own future life. Like the rainbow the cross carries a message of universal salvation. The cross was the dreaded Roman form of execution; the rainbow is visible to every human eye, whatever the person’s religion may be. In the eyes of Christ, we are all favoured children.
St James helps us examine whether the universal saving signs of the cross and of the rainbow are operative in our own lives. He begins simply: “Your faith must not allow of favouritism.” We are not to value one people according to their wealth, power, prestige or social rank. Whoever operates by these false standards is liable to make “corrupt decisions.” If we return to the symbols of the cross and the rainbow, they present everyone as a human being created by God to the divine likeness. On the cross, Jesus died naked; through the rainbow we look on a world washed clean and appearing in its naked beauty. Returning to James, we find that we are not to be impressed by those who enter our company fashionably dressed, or despise those who enter dressed in shabby clothes, for in God’s eyes we are all poor and naked, beautiful and naked–and equal. We are what we have grown to be by our faith in God’s goodness and fidelity, by our imitation of God’s generosity and forgiveness.
Before concluding his critique of favouritism, James cites the injunction: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” which Jesus calls the second commandment, and was repeated as a Christian principle by St Paul (Rom 13:9). These beautiful ideals are hard to put into practice, just as is the call to carry our cross with Jesus. It is little wonder that Peter took Jesus aside and began to remonstrate with him, until he had to reply abruptly and sternly “Out of my sight, you Satan!” Jesus’ final words on that occasion seem to resonate in James’ epistle for today, “You are not judging by God’s standards but by human standards.”