November 29, 2004

Do Not Speak Evil Against One Another

James now puts into his own words that injunction of Jesus not to judge others:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

-- James 4:11-12 (NRSV)



Jesus' version -- or rather the gospel according to Matthew's take on Jesus' injunction is:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

(Matthew 7:1-2)




It has been pointed out to me in a private email, that this injunction is a kind of corrective to the socialist interpretation I (and a few other social gospel types) tend to give this letter thus far.

James has accused rich folks of persecution. He has told us that God favours the poor and that his agenda is a radical redistribution of wealth and resources. In this he follows the Jesus of the gospels and also the prophetic voices of the Hebrew scriptures.

How do we reconcile these two voices?

Multiple options. One is to not bother. James is speaking from his context (which is fuzzy to us at best). Apply the preferential option for the poor in circumstances where wisdom and faith warrant and apply the do not judge injunctions in places appropriate to that.

How do we choose between them?

James is clear. The reason we do not judge is that judgment belongs to God alone. But still, faith, for people of wealth, is to look forward with hope to a day when they are no longer rich in the ways in which this world understands rich. James has already said to us:

Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field.

(James 1:9-10)



However we reconcile these, or whether we do, leaving James in his 2000 year old context and muddling through on our own, what speaks to us (me) here is this: if you think the Christian gospel is about warm fuzzy feelings about God, or is about saving your soul (some metaphysical entity). Think again. The gospel is also political. It is about the kind of community (polis) we are to live together in.

And when we pray we pray this vision of a new and just and better world into this old and tired one.

Peace be with you Friends.

7 Comments:

At 1:21 PM, Blogger crystal said...

I see the conflict (I think) ... that first it seems like he is judging the rich and finding them wanting, then advising us not to judge anyone? But maybe he isn't judging the rich but rather saying that they have already been judged (incorrectly) by society and found to be superior ... that we should not make this distinction between rich and poor? I guess it is political - how you treat others on a personal level (not judging, no distinctions), followed to its institutional conclusion.

 
At 3:26 PM, Blogger Marjorie said...

I'm with Crystal. I think we aren't to judge the rich or the poor. The point is not to assume the rich are better people (that their wealth has been a reward for righteousness) or to prefer to be with them.

I may be speaking from a warped perspective because my denomination has historically been a very comfortable one, and I think some of these messages do get seriously soft-pedaled in my church. However, I don't agree that we are to literally prefer the poor to the rich, I don't think we are to prefer anyone and its possible that the veneration of the poor is hyperbole because people so greatly prefer the rich. Of course, I could just be the mouth-piece of Satan on this one...

 
At 9:54 PM, Blogger RW Spryszak said...

I believe there is only one judge, and that there is nothing in these scriptures that makes an evil of being "rich." I think what is being addressed are those who obtained their riches and forget they are a blessing from God, and that they are called to do good stewardship over their riches.

My point is that I feel the manner in which profit is obtained, and its use thereby afterwards are what determine the character of a rich man, and I believe James was addressing those who - in their wealth - then forgot the source of that wealth, and believed they themselves were "all that".

Condemning rich people merely for being rich is the same evil as condemning poor people merely for being poor. Otherwise we may as well admit that all morality is relative and then nothing is right or wrong at any part of the heirarchy. And if morality is relative - you would have no right to complain about rich people - their morality being justified in their minds despite your opinion. If morality were relative, there is no case to justify condemnation of a "rich" man. Your calling them down would be pointless and founded on your own whim.

We are charged to discern values by our wit and intuition - but the judging is God's. 1 Cor 4:5 is our adequate warning about this kind of activity, I think.

 
At 5:08 PM, Blogger Larry said...

Re Condemning the rich: R.W. is right on there.
The important fact is that the love of wealth makes of one the proverbial rich man who Jesus said had as much trouble getting into the kingdom as a camel going through the eye of a needle.

This is the salient truth about wealth: it so often corrupts one.

Years ago I fell into some money and immediatedly got so charged up over it that I was spending all my time studying the stock market. I made some bad decisions and lost part of the money and swore off.

The way I interpret that experience is that the wealth was corrupting me, a sad fate from which God rescued me in the gentlest possible way.

I've known good rich men and bad poor men, although in my opinion the poor come out statistically ahead. If you're poor, thank God. You are thereby spared some very insidious corruptions.

 
At 6:18 PM, Blogger david said...

Remember way back near teh beginning of thsis tudy I talked about something I called prophetic reversal? This is the notion that God shows forth God's power by turning our everyday expectations on their heads.

So when Jesus was born, he was born to an unwed mother and laid in a manger instead of being born to the house of Herod or of Caesar. The first shall be alst and teh last first.

These reversals happen in regards to wealth an uncomfortable number of times. James talks of at least two kinds of wealthy person. There's teh rich whjo persecute you. But there are aslo the wealthy Christians -- they do exist -- but at the same time they are advised to glory in their being humbled.

In Kingdom of God the poor are amde rich and the rich poor.

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger RW Spryszak said...

I think you have something there Mr Saur...

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God. As Larry intimates, people who fall to their temptation are no longer "walking humbly".

 
At 9:22 PM, Blogger Meredith said...

Friends,
I want to let you all know that I'm listening here, but don't have much to add. My initial response to this conversation however is this: Rich and poor is about dualism - separating people into groups based on somthing very external. Internally, we are all the same. And in this sameness, we all have this wonderful capacity to be awake to that which is truly our gift. It has little to do with what is in your pocket - and everything to do with what is in your heart. However, it may be difficult to explore your heart without the essentials of shelter, food, and physical needs being met.

Meredith

 

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