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September 2, 2018

“. . . have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”  James 2:4

I thought of Aretha Franklin, who recently passed away, and her rendition of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, a song written by Otis Redding, when I read this week’s Scripture lessons.[1]  Everyone wants to be respected—the young, the old, the middle-aged, the in-between, people of different genders, ethnicities, religions, skin colors, etc. James tells us that respecting others comes down to the following “royal” law (aka the Golden Rule): “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers’” (James 2: 8-9).

Because human beings inhabit the earth, discrimination has always been present.  The Bible, while railing against discrimination in both the Old and the New Testaments, documents many instances of discrimination from the beginning of time through the years after Jesus’ death.  The fledgling church that arose after the resurrection was not exempt from allegations of discrimination.  Luke recounts that the Greek-speaking believers complained that their widows were being discriminated against in the distribution of food by Hebrew-speaking believers (Acts 6:1).  Jewish believers assumed that Jesus was their Messiah only—that Gentiles were not included in God’s plan of salvation (Romans 1:16; Acts 14: 27; Acts 15:5).

Discrimination was rampant in the first century, and still rears its ugly head today. William Wilberforce was instrumental in the nineteenth century in the movement to stop the slave trade because of the Christian mandate to treat all people equally.  In the twentieth century, many predominately Christians nations formed an alliance to band together to stop Hitler, but not before he killed six million Jews.  Just over 25 years ago Serbia tried to “ethnically cleanse” the Bosnian territory by removing and killing Bosnian Muslims.

As Christians, we are required to treat others as we want to be treated.  During Jesus’ ministry many Jews rejected the inclusion of Gentiles in Jesus’ ministry—yet Mark recalls an incident when Jesus healed a Gentile woman’s daughter (Mark 7: 24-29).  James emphasized that showing favoritism to some people over others is forbidden: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes . . . have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2: 1-4).

God views all people as equals.  Here are a few examples from Scripture teaching us to treat everyone equally: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image’ . . . So God created male and female he created them”(Excerpts from Genesis 1: 26-27); “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the almighty and awesome God, who is not partial. . .”(Deuteronomy 10:17); “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”(Galatians 3:28).

Because we live among sinful human beings, discrimination has not been eradicated over the last two thousand years.  To the victims of discrimination and to all with “fearful hearts,” Isaiah encourages us to “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, and he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you” (Isaiah 35:4).  There will be divine payback for injustices—whether it is meted out by an employer who sets things right, a governmental agency, a court, a nations, or by God’s ultimate judgment.

The psalmist reminds us to praise God under all circumstances.  Praising God takes us out of our current woes and helps us focus on God, our strength and our refuge: “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free, . . . the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down . . . the Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow . . .” (Psalm 146: 7-9).

Just remember to give others a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T—to treat them as you want to be treated. If most people followed that simple rule, it would go a long way to overcoming prejudices.

Respect. Practice it.  Today.

Diane Cieslikowski  Reagan



[1]The Scripture texts for Sunday, September 9, 2018, are Isaiah 35: 4-7; Psalm 146; James 2: 1-10, 14-19; Mark 7: 24-37.

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