Rethinking Impartiality

I am continuing my study of James. The passage for this week:

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:1-13


The Epistle of James continues to challenge me. Here James warns fellow followers of Christ about showing partiality. Partiality rears its head when we make judgments about individuals and show preferences based on those judgments. While James gives the example of preferring those based on material wealth, the warning is equally applicable regarding race, gender or age. My immediate reaction was, “Whew! I’m off the hook this week—I don’t do that!” After all, I am appalled when I see anyone hurt by racism or discrimination. It deeply grieves me.


But, is showing partiality not just about what we feel about others, but what we fail to do? I then started reflecting on the ways that Jesus proactively demonstrated that He was not partial. He went out of His way to travel through Samaria to bring the good news of His arrival to an outcast—a Samaritan woman. He forgave prostitutes. He healed the poor. He left the comforts of home to reach the lost. He showed us how to go after the one coin, the one sheep that was lost, and rejoiced when the beloved was found. Jesus demonstrated that we are not partial when we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but He also expanded the definition of “neighbors” by leaving His neighborhood! If I am only caring or sharing the love of Christ with those in my circle of friends and neighbors, those that are the same age, the same race, the same gender, or the same economic status as myself, am I not showing partiality?  We are called to show love and mercy to everyone, being partial to none.


Perhaps James had in mind what Jesus will say to His faithful followers when He comes again in glory--the future blessings for proactively loving others without partiality:


‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40