James 2:10
Perceptions

I would have loved to have had a couple of people help me today, one dressed in scruffy clothes, a bit smelly and in need of some attention to personal hygiene and another sharply dressed, clean and smelling great.  I would have sat one on each side of the church for a bit of a social experiment, just to see what reaction we would have.  Then I would have thrown a cat among the pigeons and had you all come down onto the flat floor area to sit.  Would we have avoided the scruffy looking one, or would we have embraced them?  I guess we will never know.

Sometimes as the worship leader it feels as though I’m being treated a bit like a poor or smelly person.  I stand up here at the front and people file into the service and sit as far away as possible.  People seem to sit back out of the light, where they can’t be seen, they hide in the shadows.  When the spotlights are on in the chapel it makes it possible for you to see me, but harder for me to see you.  There is a real disconnection going on, it makes it hard to have a conversation with you when I can’t see you.

When James wrote his letter he was actually talking about the way the congregations he was writing to might react if a rich or a poor person came into their assembly.  Would they show favouritism toward the rich person and give them the best seat and then give the poor person a place to stand or maybe a spot on the floor to sit on?  How would they live out their faith?  Would they be judgemental?  He was urging them not to be.

This was written a couple of thousand years ago, do you think things have changed at all?  Do we treat people differently depending on how they are dressed?  I heard a story this week, and I’m not sure if it is true, but one pastor allegedly dressed up in scruffy clothes himself and sat in the church before the service.  No one approached him, the congregation were getting worried that the pastor wasn’t coming today, then the ‘homeless’ person got up and started leading the service.  I was tempted to give that one a go too, but it would be a bit hard to pull off here.

I also think that in our surroundings there are people who try to look wealthy but perhaps are not, sort of like a duck paddling on the water, looks calm and pretty on the surface but underneath, hidden away they are paddling like mad.  I think these days it is perhaps easier to disguise our financial status than it was at the time of James writing his letter.  The pressure to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ is much stronger now than it ever was, especially when there are teenage kids involved.  We’re under so much pressure to look wealthy that our lives become poorer because of it.

Part of the problem is that we socialise only with those people who are in a similar situation to ourselves.  Social circles are based on our education, income or status in the community.  We rarely see socialisation between different socio-economic groups except perhaps in sporting clubs, but my hunch is that even the sports we are involved in reflect our financial status.  We don’t feel comfortable when we come into contact with someone who is from outside of our usual sphere of influence.

Now if we look at the two accounts in our Gospel reading we see something very different happening.  Jesus had just come from the region of Gennesaret, where most of the people were indeed from his usual sphere of influence, culturally, religiously and financially.  From there he went into Tyre, a country filled with Gentiles, that is, a group of people that a Jew shouldn’t be mixing with.  Yet he heads off into this country deliberately, not seeming to care who he mixed with.
Then along comes this woman, of Syrophoenician origin, even further removed from the accepted group of people that Jesus could or should be spending time with.

This woman approaches Jesus and asks for his help, after some conversation about whether or not Jesus should be helping her, she answers him wisely by saying that even the dogs get the crumbs from the children’s tables and Jesus helps her.  Without even having to go near the woman’s daughter, Jesus casts the demon out of her.  When probably no-one else would have given this woman the time of day, Jesus took the time; he cared, showed her love and listened to her needs.

Then we move on.  There is a deaf man, who has a speech impediment, he would have been poor.  How would a man who couldn’t hear or speak have earned and income, he was probably a beggar.  He too comes to Jesus and as we know, Jesus heals him.  He didn’t keep him at arms length, he came near and he touched him.  He spat, and touched his tongue!  That would have defiled him under Jewish law, made him unclean, and yet Jesus did, it didn’t stop him from caring for this person in need.  There was no class or cultural difference that would stop Jesus from interacting with anybody.  He even had meals with tax collectors and prostitutes.

It didn’t matter to Jesus who he mixed with and who he cared for and who he showed love for.  When we hear this reading about rich people and poor people and which one might be good and which one might not be, we start to wonder which one might be wrong and which one might be right, but that is a false argument.  Jesus doesn’t care whether we are rich or poor, whether we smell bad or whether we smell good, whether we are beautiful or not so beautiful.  Jesus doesn’t discriminate, he loves each and every one of us the same.  He wants each and every one of us to respond to that, to love our neighbour as we love ourselves and as he loves us.  Jesus not only gives us an example to live by, but he has the same message for each of us, it doesn’t matter who they are, or we are, the message is the same, God did send his son to go out into all the world, to all people, so that all of us could be saved and he then sent his disciples out to share that message with the whole world, to the ends of the earth, and we continue that calling, to love our neighbour, no matter who they are, in response and through the love that God has given us through his Son.

Amen.