(In the Hebrew Bible there is much favoritism: favorite people, sons, daughters, wives, etc., but with Jesus' coming among us and being the final interpreter of the Hebrew Bible, we see that God plays no favorites.)
One thing I like about our Eucharistic and Daily Office Lectionaries is that they force us to confront the Word of God in a systematic way that is not based on our own preferences and desires. We consider three texts every Sunday that are not of our choosing. This keeps alive a prophetic dimension to the whole enterprise of hearing God's word and benefiting from its wisdom for our lives.
For example, many preachers, after many years on the job, have favorites texts that they tend to choose to preach on over and over again, or, they have sermons and illustrations all ready to go for particular occasions or feast days. I don't know about you, but I like "fresh" sermons (like Wendy's) that allows the readings for the day to enlighten our actual daily lives and all the happenings around us.)
Today is primary election day in the land. The Vice-President of Guatemala has been arrested and the President has had his immunity from prosecution stripped away this week. It's about the diverting of funds that could have gone into the government's coffers to pay, for example, educational needs and teachers pay and health care for those most in need of it. I've heard for a long time and even more this summer about shortages in these two areas: teachers who haven't been paid for months in rural areas, and lack of money for medicine and professional health providers, again, especially in rural areas.
So, if these funds have been diverted into the pockets of politicians instead of funding real needs of people and especially the poor, then isn't it prophetic to be given this particular text from Proverbs today:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver and gold. . . Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils the life of those who despoil them.
(Nature of prophecy: not predicting the future, but speaking God's wisdom to a present situation.)
So isn't this is a prophetic text for us this morning who for a long time have witnessed this kind of despoiling? Having resources is not a sin, but not understanding that both rich and poor are completely alike in their human dignity and creation by God, is. If, like we see in certain politicians (and we can't exempt ourselves either, in our much smaller "political" realms), if there is a choice between either having a good name or enriching ourselves with silver and gold, wisdom would teach us to make a good name and not ill-gotten wealth, our top priority.
One of the qualities that constitutes a good name is to be regarded as one who shows no partiality or favoritism. This mirrors in the believer God's own impartiality toward his creatures. As James puts it:
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?
Thinking of parish ministry, I can tell you that when you are worried about parish budgets and payroll and a wealthy looking visitor comes to consider joining the church, its a real temptation not to give that person extra attention and not pay too much attention to the poorer person in the pews. As James goes on:
. . . have you made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? . . . Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
Where the Holy Spirit is trying to move us, I think, is away from cultural identities that base themselves on being over against others, like the un-holy communions we've been talking about the last few weeks. Only Jesus, the Lamb of God, can gather us away from these un-holy communions based on partiality. (check out 1 Corinthians chapter 11) This is what we are trying to "grow into" as we come together for Holy Communion each Sunday.
The Gospel today has Jesus giving us examples, with some hurdles to be overcome, that must have helped form James' own convictions.
Jesus and his disciples pass through the region of Tyre. He takes shelter in a house there and is hoping no one will know where he is. And this pagan woman, a Syro-phoenician, hears where Jesus is staying and goes to plead the case of her daughter troubled by an unclean spirit. Jesus puts her off completely. He insists he has come for the children (of Israel) and not for "dogs" of her kind! (This is the first hurdle- Jesus' offensive response to the woman- not a very "sweet" Jesus!) But the woman has "staying faith" and tells Jesus that even dogs eat the scraps from the master's table! Seeing her faith, even after offense, he assures her that her daughter is well. Jesus is willing to offend if it might lead a person to real faith! The pagan woman has faith and the sincere, law-abiding Pharisees (last weeks Gospel) don't have much!
In Jesus' time (and really persisting with, thank goodness, some few exceptions in our own) a person born with a physical disability was considered worthless, really, completely un-productive as far as society was concerned. "They" bring Jesus a deaf man with a speach impediment. (Might they be thinking: Let's see what he can do with this guy! This will be a barrel of laughs!) To their chagrin, Jesus takes the man aside privately and heals him. Things get very physical: Jesus takes his spittle and puts it in the man's ears and then (this is the second hurdle I mentioned) spits on his fingers again and touches the man's tongue. (Don't you think eewwwwww!)
So, what's happened here? Two "zilchs" of society get Jesus' attention and healing help. Jesus doesn't play favorites. The word is prosopolampsia. Setting yourself up as a judge of someone's outward appearance or reputation with no regard to their intinsic worth or dignity as a human being (the respect we promise to give in the Baptismal Covenant), but instead whose value is determined by the latest un-holy communion that we are part of at the moment.
But we are here for Holy Communion. Jesus is in our midst. The Holy Spirit is moving us to repentance (metanoia= meta (change) nous (thinking). While voting is going on today as we are gathered here, we'll taste and learn what it's like to live in God's Kingdom.
Thanks be to God!