Pentecost +14 - Year B
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Ahh, the old joke (or not) about a boss who gets an invisible finger from a demigod of the marketplace and bawls out an employee, who bawls out a partner, who bawls out a kid, who kicks a dog.
“Can’t you track things,” asks James and in so doing asks, “Can’t you break the pattern where you are?”
While appreciating that faith by itself is “dead” if it has no “works,” this does lead us to a new legalism, keeping every jot and tittle of a work ethic and setting all laws as equally valid in all situations. This passage was shaped to lead us to this conclusion. An important antidote to a Protestant Work Ethic and literalistic doctrine is found in the missing section - mercy triumphs over judgment. While James is talking about specific rules in a negative fashion - whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it - we do also need the positive spin of mercy that brings the freedom to intentionally break some rules when they lead to a reduction in love of neighbor.
It is this mercy that will rebalance the world, not equalizing income, but, amazingly, the equalizing of resources does open up new possibilities for mercy to become an organizing principle for human interaction. And around and around we go. A helpful focus here is the connection of loving neighbor with mercy. This helps us deal with those we would otherwise shunt onto the siding of evil. And so a restatement might be, “You shall be merciful with your neighbor as you are merciful with yourself.” This reestablishes a relationship rather than a rule that all too easily slides into whether or not I like my neighbor.