Lectionary Commentaries for September 5, 2021
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 7:24-37

C. Clifton Black

Mark has juxtaposed stories in 7:24-30 and 7:31-37 as mirror images of each other. Both focus on unfortunate people suffering infirmities that isolate them from society (verses 25a, 32a). Something from within the daughter and the deaf man incapacitates them: a demon (verse 30), ear-stoppage (verse 33b), or speech-blockage (verse 35). Proxies intercede on their behalf, kneeling before (verse 25) or begging (verse 32) Jesus. The tale of the Syrophoenician woman begins with Jesus’ failed attempt to escape notice (7:24b); the tale of the deaf man ends with Jesus’ defeated order to tell no one (7:36a). The harder secrecy is pressed, the more widely the good news is broadcast (verse 36b): a contradiction pervading Mark (1:44–2:2; 6:31–33) and triply ironic for an account that ends with defiance of a gag order against reporting Jesus’ removal of a speech impediment (7:35b–36).

The references to Tyre (verse 24), Syrophoenicia (verse 26), Sidon, and the Decapolis (verse 31) are important: Jesus is traversing Gentile territory, despised by Jews (Ezekiel 26:1-28:19; Joel 3:4-8). In 2021 xenophobic reactions to border-crossings make worldwide headlines. Some things never change.

The differences between these tales are telling. Mark 7:33-34 itemizes Jesus’ therapeutic technique: private treatment, palpation, spitting, looking to heaven, sighing, pronouncing the cure. Its confirmation is particularized: literally, “[the man’s] hearing was opened up, and his tongue’s shackle was released, and he spoke straight” (7:35). Beyond Jesus’ declaration of the child’s healing (verse 29) and its subsequent confirmation (verse 30), Mark 7:24–30 recounts no details of the exorcism. The little girl’s healing takes place far removed from Jesus. The last verse in 7:31-37 is its punchline: ironically, Gentiles acclaim Jesus with an Old Testament paraphrase (Isaiah 35:5-6). Verse 30 is anticlimactic in Mark 7:24-30, whose interest lies in the thrust and parry between Jesus and the woman in 7:27–29.

She is a Gentile, “a Greek” (Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:28). Unconventionally for a woman in antiquity, she approaches Jesus for her daughter’s exorcism. Nowhere in Mark has Jesus refused such assistance; exorcisms characterize the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom by God’s Son (1:21-28; 3:11-12, 23-27; 5:1-20; 9:14-29) and his disciples (6:7, 13). In 7:14-23 Jesus’ teaching has abolished traditional distinctions between clean (Jews) and unclean (Gentiles). Therefore, Jesus’ reply to this mother is disturbing. While not ignoring her (see also Matthew 15:23), he suggests a delay in her petition’s fulfillment based on ethnic priority (“let the children be fed first”) and the ignobility of “taking the children’s bread and pitching it to the dogs” (7:27, my translation). For one who has just spoken of defilement that emerges from within (verse 23), it is Jesus who appears ignoble.

There’s no escaping the ethnic slur built into “dogs” (tois kynariois; 1 Samuel 17:43; Revelation 22:15). The Jesus of history may have had little interaction with Gentiles for the reason given in Matthew 15:24: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Both Matthew (5:47; 6:7; 18:17) and Paul (Galatians 2:15) take a dim view of Gentile conduct, even though they, like Mark and other New Testament authors, are dedicated to Gentile evangelization (Matthew 28:19; Acts 13:46; Galatians 1:16; Colossians 1:27).

What does the preacher do with Mark 7:27-29? Commentators repeatedly try to get Jesus off the hook, somehow, usually by imputing to Mark 7:27-29 a sweetener without textual basis. (“‘Little puppies’ aren’t offensive.”) That not only strains credulity; it undermines Mark, who, had he been as embarrassed as some of his interpreters, could have excised the pericope entirely (Luke did just that.) Others suggest that Jesus was testing the woman’s faith. While not out of character for the Markan Jesus (6:37-38), other possibilities are suggested by 7:27.

Jesus does not flatly refuse the woman’s request but does prioritize “the children” (ta tekna: presumably, Israel) as primary beneficiaries. In antiquity a child occupied a station of claimless vulnerability. Even children, however, are fed before lapdogs. While we reel from this affront, the Syrophoenician woman executes some comedic jujitsu, twisting Jesus’ maxim to deliver the retort best suiting her situation: “Sir [Kyrie], even house-dogs under the table scarf down the kids’ bitty scraps” (7:28 my translation).

Her acknowledgement of Jesus’ superiority, the implied acceptance of his insult, the lowering of self beneath the table, the subtle shift in Greek from one term for “children” to another (paidia) that blends immaturity and servanthood, acceptance of crumbs: all these elements anticipate Jesus’ own definitions of discipleship (9:33-37; 10:13-16), congruent with the Son of Man’s self-condescension (8:31; 10:41–45). That is what makes “this word” so apt and so convincing (7:29). Jesus more than concedes the quick-witted moxie of a female foreigner. He ratifies her claim to the gospel on the very grounds that he himself will explain in 10:28-31. She is not disappointed (7:30).

In the context of Mark 7:1-23, this Sunday’s lection proves that Jesus’ offensiveness is a fact we must face. A conservative congregation will be affronted by Jesus’ claim that defilement comes from within, not from without (7:15, 23). Liberal Christians resist the notion that a socially progressive Jesus would say what Mark ascribes to him in 7:27 or, worse, that the Gentile so insulted would accept the slur (7:28). The deeper question is whether we can follow a Christ so repulsive as to die by crucifixion (15:22-41). Jesus flummoxes everyone who boxes him into conventional expectations: the pious (2:1-3:6; 7:1-23), his family (3:19b-21), his disciples (8:33), and even some petitioners (7:24-30). If we, too, are not gobsmacked, it’s a safe bet that we have domesticated Jesus and have neutered the gospel.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 35:4-7a

Juliana Claassens

The lectionary text of this week is embedded in a joyful celebration of God’s definitive liberation over the forces of death and destruction.

In the first verses of Isaiah 35, the dry places of the world erupt in jubilant praise as the once barren desert and wilderness breaks out in a field of flowers. And Isaiah 35:6-7 captures this most radical transformation of lifegiving water amidst the dry land when it proclaims that “waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool; and the thirsty ground springs of water.”

Anyone who has ever experienced being thirsty, and the devastating effects of drought, will appreciate the idea of plentiful water and an abundance of rain as an apt illustration of God’s deliverance. Corresponding to the imagery and language found in Deutero-Isaiah (see also Isaiah 41:18; 44:3-4; 51:3), Isaiah 35 imagines from within a situation of hopelessness another world in which dry and barren places have been turned into the most fertile places imaginable: Lebanon, Carmel, Sharon (verse 2). This text poignantly imagines how the devastating effects of imperial violence upon the environment are undone as the natural world, once ravaged by the scorched-earth policy of invading armies, is restored by God’s liberating presence.

This week’s lectionary reading encompasses the heartfelt yearning of a community who for much too long has been caught in the grips of war. In this expression of wishful thinking, one hears a deep desire for a different world—a world in which there is a return of life amidst death, and healing in the context of the ravages of imperial violence.

The dramatic transformation that speaks of new life in places where death until now has reigned supreme is connected to God’s presence in the community when Isaiah 35:2 divulges that “they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” The promise of God’s presence serves as a source of comfort when “those who are of a fearful heart” are told: “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God” (verse 4).

This motif of water in the desert, of fertility in the case of barrenness, is continued in Isaiah 35 in a number of images that speak of disability. In verses 5-6, it is noted that the blind will see, and that the deaf shall hear, and that those who are physically impaired will jump like deer.

In the Ancient Near East, like many places still in the world today, disability was seen as the ultimate life-denying circumstance, impairing individuals to such an extent that they could not fend for themselves—quite often ostracized and pushed out of the community.1 According to Isaiah 35’s logic, healing and transformation are bestowed upon the exilic community who themselves have been feeling as helpless and feeble and unable to move forward as those with physical impairments. In Isaiah 35:3, the prophet expresses the purpose of this text as lifting up those who are feeling helpless: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.”

From the vantage point of disability studies, such an interpretation, though, is fraught with problems. The fact that disability is used as a symbol of weakness in this text—a condition that needs to be transformed or healed—says a lot about the mindset of the community that generated these texts, but also about the stigma and the stereotypes associated with disability that has found expression in communities who have been reading these texts since. For instance, in terms of what is called the social model of disability, visually, auditory, and physically impaired individuals are only unable to see, hear, or freely move in the absence of societal structures that ensure access and inclusion. Thus, measures such as braille, audiobooks, sign language, and wheelchair access make it possible for the blind to see, for the deaf to hear, and for those who are unable to walk to move as unencumbered as deer jumping over obstacles. In the spirit of Isaiah 35’s transformative vision, one could thus ask: what it would take for a community to ensure the full integration of those individuals who have been excluded and denied, for them to live full and meaningful lives?

Finally, even though the thought of God’s presence that signals the return of joy, of safety, and of the possibility to live and love in peace, is and continues to be a word of great comfort to all who hear these words, one should not miss the potential for further violence pulsating underneath the surface. In verse 4, God’s transformative presence is intrinsically connected to the desire for God’s vengeance. The vision of a transformed world is here, as elsewhere in the prophetic tradition, associated with the notion of a Divine Warrior who definitively comes to destroy the enemy forces that have been responsible for so much harm, bringing death to the human and natural world alike (Isaiah 25:6-9; 63:1-9). In many of these texts, after God emerged victorious, enacting the revenge for which the people so desperately yearned, God is said to recreate, restore, and rejuvenate the world that once was utterly uninhabitable due to war and imperial violence.

However, readers of these texts should take care that the implied violence in this text does not inadvertently incite further violence as they move toward identifying who and what are considered to be the enemies who need to be eliminated for peace and prosperity to return. Particularly in our current context of increased polarization and enmity between various sections of the community, and specifically given the tendency of leaders to call individuals and groups “enemies” of our people, our values, our way of life, and by implication, also our God, any reference to God’s vengeance and recompense should be treated with more caution than ever before.


    1. Sarah J. Melcher, “With Whom Do the Disabled Associate? Metaphorical Interplay in the Latter Prophets,” in This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities In Biblical Studies (ed. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher & Jeremy Schipper; Leiden: Brill, 2007).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Valerie Bridgeman

The book of Proverbs is known as a wisdom book in the Bible (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes) which include in the Apocrypha the books of Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon. Wisdom, in these books, presumes knowledge that will help people lead good, godly, and wholesome lives. Proverbs is a collection of sayings, presumably understood as folk wit that “everyone knows,” especially elders (parents, leaders) after a life of sage living. Sage living assumes that the practitioner has observed life up close (Ecclesiastes 1:14), and though the observer may not be as pessimistic about what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes reports, they do understand the human condition and what can make it better, based on paying attention.

This week’s texts are pulled from a collection that reflects on how living well (wisely) affects a person’s economic condition and how those who “have” must attend to how they respond to those who “have not.” The word used in these couplets for “poor,” ras, shows up mostly in Proverbs, though it is the same word that Nathan uses when he confronts David about stealing a man’s only lamb (2 Samuel 12:1-3). While it is typical for the lectionary to skip around in Proverbs, it might help the preacher to read all of Proverbs 22, in order to get some sense of what might have been in the mind of those who compiled these verses (beyond the ones we will address here, for example, 1-2, 8-9, and 22-23) about “the poor.”

The whole chapter links the plight of the poor one with the wise one who also may have wealth because they are wise (see also verses 4, 7, 16, 26, and 28-29). In some ways all of these verses are about how one gains security, represented here by wealth, or at least represented in the possibility of not having to depend on the wealthy. By security, I have in mind what the prophet said would be evidence that the people have been taught God’s ways and walk in them (Micah 4:2), with the resultant goal that “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). 

These words reflect an if/then formula for living in peace and prosperity, regularly seen in wisdom literature. While the prophet suggests God’s behavior is paramount and humans participate by following God’s wisdom, these Proverb verses seem to assume  “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”without really addressing those systems that may make it impossible to do so. I encourage the preacher to consider the systems as well as the people in the systems as they preach these texts.

In the first verses, 1-2, we learn that a “good name” is better than or should be chosen over riches. That is to say, if given the choice between extravagant wealth and a reputation that will take you far, always choose to live the kind of wise integrity that will bring you a good name. When wealth is upheld as a great value, some old observer of human life noted that “being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold,” (verse 2, New Living Translation). 

Thinking together about what it means to be created by God, no matter our material conditions, is not an invitation to ignore injustices or to maltreat those who do not benefit from the privilege wealth brings. It also might help to remember that our current, global disparities between the super wealthy and those who lack may be much greater than those who first spoke these proverbs could imagine. But we must imagine how, as people of faith, we take these ancient observations and dream afresh how we may use our wealth, our wisdom, our strength, our good names, and our connections to lessen the distance between the rich and poor. And we must do so as we affirm the idea that God made us all, and that in and of itself makes us equal in worth and in dignity.

The second set of verses, 8 and 9, pick up this idea that I have just laid out. The proverb says, “whoever sows injustice will reap calamity and the rod of anger will fail.” At first glance, it does not seem that this verse has much to do with how we respond to those without, but we might need to go back and get verse 7, which notes that “the rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” What does the rich ruling over the poor have to do with verse 8, which speaks of sowing injustice or the “rod of anger”? It would seem that the vile treatment of the poor represented by “whoever sows injustice” induces understandable anger of those under the boot of those who misuse their position and wealth in unjust ways. As Dr. Wil Gafney noted,1 the word used in the King James Version, “iniquity,” is a stronger and better translation for “injustice.” It reminds the hearer that what is being sown is grossly wrong, and I would maintain, should be called sinful.

I think the preacher has to resist the temptation to try to comfort everyone in this sermon, no matter their station in life. These texts actually want the one who has wealth or much more than most to feel what’s wrong with not being generous, with not sharing their bread with the poor, though not to be ashamed of being prosperous. Sharing one’s bread is a call to a community, not just to wealthy persons sharing their leftovers. Perhaps it is a call to relationships, and the wealthy would have to make the move to those relationships, because they are most likely the ones to be able to cross the economic social boundaries. It should be more than patting oneself on the back for “community service,” which is something much less than community building. It is a call to expand one’s relationships, to be generous of heart as well as of resources. 

It reminds me that generosity arises out of abundance, and abundance is not only related to the “stuff” one possesses. Indeed, in the gospels, Jesus would later be recorded as saying, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NRSV). In her poem, “Nikki Rosa,” Nikki Giovanni2 talks about living without resources, but how happy she was as a child. She remembers a generous world where “everybody is together,” and that is her definition that “black love is black wealth.” Wealth, for her, is not in the stuff, but in relationships. I think the proverb writer gets at this notion. What is there to explore homiletically?

Finally, the last set of texts appear so obvious that it is hard to understand why one would have to say it. To tell people not to take from those who already have so little “because they are poor” seems apparent. But those who know this proverbial saying have observed a life where people take from the “dal,” the poor, the weak.  If we only translate this word as “poor,” we may miss that this word carries the notion of weak to the point of helpless in the face of the forces against them. These poor people are connected here to the “ani,” oppressed people. It suggests that poverty may come from crushing oppressive practices by those who benefit from such systems and who do not consider anyone but themselves. Here, the text insists that God will plead the cause of the poor and afflicted among us. The word “plead,” riv, is a legal term that assumes that God will serve as prosecutor on behalf of those who are mistreated. If pushed to its conclusion, it would also mean that God is the defense attorney for the poor, and the judge over the case. What would taking that reality into account do for the sermon writer? 

In the world as we currently face it, there is so much to encounter around the way we manage our goods, the way we see ourselves in relationship with others, and the way we attach those observations to our relationship with God. These sayings give us an opportunity to reflect on where we stand in all these relationships.


  1. Wil Gafney, “Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23,” Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 9, 2012, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-23-2/commentary-on-proverbs-221-2-8-9-22-23. Accessed August 11, 2021.
  2. Nikki Giovanni, “Nikki Rosa,” at Def Poetry Jam, May 10, 2014, https://youtu.be/H3X2EwKgOk0. Accessed August 11, 2021.


Commentary on Psalm 146

Esther M. Menn

Psalm 146 opens a collection of five hallelujah psalms at the end of the book of Psalms (146-150).1

Each of these psalms begins and ends by encouraging everyone to “praise the LORD!” which is the meaning of the Hebrew phrase hallelu-yah. This joyful set of psalms is a fitting conclusion for the book of Psalms, which in Hebrew is known as “Praise Songs” (Tehillim).

Psalm 146 celebrates the good news that in the face of human frailty and mortality God remains trustworthy. What is more, God’s sovereignty from creation to eternity is dedicated to assisting those in deepest need and direst circumstances. Lifelong praise through bearing witness to God’s reign is the theme of Psalm 146.

The opening verses present an internal dialogue. An individual responds to the general call to “praise the LORD” by pledging herself to praise the LORD “as long as I live” and to sing God’s praises “all my life long” (verses 1-2; compare Psalm 103:1). The human lifespan is introduced as ample time for expressing God’s goodness. (A contrasting emphasis on the brevity of human life appears in the critique of earthly rulers in verses 3-4.)

An alternate translation of verse 2 identifies human life not only as the timeframe but also as the means through which to praise God: “I will praise the LORD though my life; I will sing God’s praises through my existence” (author’s translation). This translation suggests events in a person’s own life that illustrate God’s faithfulness. It also implies that the way one lives one’s life is itself an act of praise. Living out God’s values of truth, justice, and responsiveness to those in need described in vss. 5-9 acknowledges God’s goodness. This inspiring range of meanings is due to the scope of the Hebrew preposition in both phrases, which can mean “in, during, through, or by means of” (b).

The psalm suddenly shifts to the topic of human leaders or “nobles.” Even the best public officials, teachers, business leaders, and social change agents are limited in their efforts to help those in trouble, not because they are evil but because they are disappointing. Those who promise assistance are themselves mortal. Like the first “human being” (’adam) in Genesis, they die and return to the “earth” (’adamah, verse 4), and their plans fail on that day, a brief unit of time contrasting to the eternity of God’s reign. The stories of even the greatest of Israel and Judah’s leaders, such as Moses and David, demonstrate their fallibility. Contemporary examples of our leaders’ limitations are also easy to identify.

The rest of Psalm 146 gives a contrasting vision of God as an attentive and reliable sovereign. An opening beatitude highlights the good fortune of the person who trusts in the God of Jacob (verse 5). The ideology of ancient near eastern kingship as ensuring justice and as protecting the vulnerable lies behind the portrait of God as a helper in time of need that follows. (See Psalm 72 for an expression of this royal ideology.)

The qualities that make God praiseworthy are described through a series of wonderful verbs, all participles expressing habitual behaviors. Creation, restoration, and caregiving mark God’s character. God is always acting!

God is first of all the one who creates. The scope of God’s creative action is as large as the heavens, the earth, and the sea, as well as everything that inhabits them. The entire creation is undergirded by God’s eternal truth (verse 6).

God’s action quickly shifts from the panorama of creation to specific categories of vulnerable human beings. It is easy to identify people today who fall into the categories identified in Psalm 146:7-9 as the recipients of God’s special attention. Additional categories specific to local, national, or global contexts might be identified as well.

People who are exploited, experiencing hunger, and incarcerated are given top priority (verse 7).

God brings justice to those who have been economically, socially, or sexually abused for another’s advantage. The same Hebrew verb, “making” (‘oseh), is used to describe both God’s creating (‘oseh) of the entire world and God’s giving (‘oseh) of justice to those who have been oppressed. Creation and liberation are interrelated activities.

Providing food for the hungry follows as a parallel to God’s granting of justice. The help provided is not abstract, but real assistance in time of the body’s distress (see James 2:15-16). Food justice as an ongoing issue, exemplified by “food deserts” in some U.S. neighborhoods, might be lifted up in a sermon.

The third and final category in verse 7 includes those who are bound, whom God releases. The huge prison population in the United States springs to mind in this connection.

Healing of bodily and spiritual infirmities and restoration to wholeness follows (verse 8). Mark 7 contains parallels, with the Syrophoenician woman corresponding to the person bowed down who is raised up (Mark 7:25-26) and the man who is deaf and mute a variant of the blind person given sight (Mark 7:37; see also Isaiah 35:5-6). Jesus ministry embodies God’s reign.

God’s love of the righteous belongs in this grouping, because the righteous commit themselves to reconciliation and to restoration of relationships.

The final categories of people for whom God advocates are those who are marginalized and powerless (verse 9). The resident alien (ger), the orphan, and the widow are three groups of vulnerable people whom God protects and expects Israel to protect (Exodus 22:20-23). No one who intends harm (the “wicked”) will ultimately succeed.

Psalm 146 portrays an amazing vision of healing, restoration, and wholeness. Living in a broken world where disappointment, anger, and injustice remain all too common, we are assured that God’s kingdom is different. We are emboldened to hope and to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The psalm concludes by acknowledging the eternal rule of Zion’s God, from generation to generation. With the divine help characteristic of God’s trustworthy governance in Psalm 146, the reasons for praising God are clear! Hallelujah!


  1. Commentary first published on this site Sept. 6, 2015.

Second Reading

Commentary on James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

Casey Thornburgh Sigmon

We may know in our minds that God loves everyone, especially the marginalized. But actions speak louder than words.

Once again, James names the critical gap between the head and the heart, between knowledge and wisdom (see my post from last week). James, the observer, is calling out particular actions which betray his community’s devotion to God. He sees how they show favor to the privileged, wealthy folk with high standing in society. Showing partiality to the rich is idol worship and a tear in the fabric of the Christian community, according to James.

Here in 2:1, we get only one of two mentions of Jesus in the whole letter of James. The emphasis of James is theological ethics rather than doctrine about Jesus. The ethic is generally more theocentric than Christocentric. Jesus’ life, miracles, death and resurrection are not mentioned in James. But the impact of Jesus’ words/actions are reflected in James as norms given to the faith community for right living. However, on the whole, it is God who is the source of every “good and perfect gift.” And wisdom, like every good and perfect gift, comes from above.

The overarching theme of this essay is that faith and partiality do not mix, especially when partiality is a reflection of the world’s way of playing favorites. Keep in mind that James sets up a dualism for the community—are you a friend of the world or a friend of God? Friends of the world show a preference for the powerful and wealthy, neglecting those struggling to make a living. Friends of God suffer with those who suffer and seek an end to the causes of their suffering.

As I highlighted in last week’s essay, the rich are a consistent source of critique in James since the quest for wealth often results in the fraying of social bonds. One grows richer by taking advantage of someone else (James 5). And as one grows wealthier, greed and self-centeredness take hold making an individual more and more friendly with the world and less and less able to be a friend of God (more on this in next week’s selection from James).

Money talk in most pulpits is taboo (unless, of course, we are talking about stewardship and capital campaigns for missions). Yet the actions we do for money, the things our society does for money, speak loudly and challenge our claim to be wholly devoted to God.

Why do we hesitate to bring money talk into the pulpit? It is good to sit with this question and bring to the sermon an identification with those feelings that keep us from getting money and faith into conversation. Is it fear of upsetting stakeholders? Then another question emerges, who are the stakeholders of the church and why? And what might James have to say about who we should allow to be a stakeholder, a persuading voice, on matters of discipleship?

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber names how our morality is at stake in the economic conditions of the West and calls on the church to speak and act in ways that James would recognize as right and faithful for friends of God to act. Rev. Dr. Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign call for a moral revival by calling out the complicated web of oppression that makes all of us sick, most notably the poor. One of the main stumbling blocks to building power for the poor is the political polarization of what are moral issues: systemic racism, degradation of the earth, militarism, and a war economy, to name a few. These are not Republican versus Democrat issues (though many try to make them so). These are moral concerns. Can we preach from James on right and wrong action in such a polarized climate? Maybe it’s not the time to preach from James if you stumble over this question.

While James shares many attributes with ancient Near East moral literature, this pericope highlights one of its distinctions. James is not concerned with moral instructions or manners that keep people in their place of status. These are not moral imperatives for maintaining the status quo when the status quo is inequality. Instead, James is egalitarian and communitarian. Any action that secures individual comfort and pleasure at the expense of another is wrong. The poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the sick are precisely whom the gathering must support as they struggle to flourish in the economy of James’ time. Their welfare leads to the welfare of all of us.

So, if bias and Christian faith are partners, it can only be when that bias is for those most likely to be cast aside by friends of the world. The world judges a human’s worth hierarchically in the pursuit of riches and honor. Friends of the world would be willing to kill a righteous person to have more things, wealth, and possessions (5:6). James is consistent in his appeal: no one can be friends with the world and God. To even attempt to straddle that divide is to live “double-minded” (1:8, 4:8). Human freedom comes about when we are of one mind, wholly a friend of God, and only seeking to practice what we profess as followers of Jesus Christ.

The preacher must be honest about double-mindedness, in herself first and then in her congregation.