June 19, 2018
Rev. Sarah TevisTownes
Bible Study Session #20: Sirach and James
This week’s texts come from James 2:1-5 and Sirach 4:1-10. Both talk about having an attitude of compassion, especially for the poor. The letter from James is often attributed to “James the Just,” a brother of Jesus, and it speaks strongly about not favoring the rich over the poor. The idea that we should treat everyone equally is common in the Bible, but James takes God’s compassion for the poor a step further saying, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom God promised those who love God?”
His letter begs the question – does God have a “preferential option for the poor”? The idea of a preferential “option for the poor” was codified by Catholic social teaching, but it shows up over and over again in the Bible. The text from Sirach (which appears in Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Bibles, but not most Protestant translations), alludes to this idea as well. The author writes, “Do not avert your eye from the needy…even if in bitterness of soul the poor should curse you, their Creator will hear their prayer and defend them.” Is there something about poverty that brings us closer to God in some way? Does God connect with people more deeply when they are poor in health, resources or spirit?
The UCC encourages us to be generous to the poor and care for them, just as God cares for us. But what does that look like? Does that mean feeding the hungry? Giving change to people who ask? Fighting for affordable housing at the state house? And what about people who are rich in money but poor in mental health or poor in love or poor in spirit? How are we to care for them? And those of us who are poor ourselves – how do we reach out? How does God reach out to us? Where can we find the relief we need? And for those of us rich in material or spiritual wealth, what is our responsibility, if any, to those who have less than we do?
Poverty is a complex social issue that raises fundamental questions for us as people of faith. I look forward to listening to the Holy Spirit as we dive deeper into our questions next Sunday!
Bible Study Scripture
New Revised Standard Version
2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?
New Revised Standard Version
4 My child, do not cheat the poor of their living,
and do not keep needy eyes waiting.
2 Do not grieve the hungry,
or anger one in need.
3 Do not add to the troubles of the desperate,
or delay giving to the needy.
4 Do not reject a suppliant in distress,
or turn your face away from the poor.
5 Do not avert your eye from the needy,
and give no one reason to curse you;
6 for if in bitterness of soul some should curse you,
their Creator will hear their prayer.
7 Endear yourself to the congregation;
bow your head low to the great.
8 Give a hearing to the poor,
and return their greeting politely.
9 Rescue the oppressed from the oppressor;
and do not be hesitant in giving a verdict.
10 Be a father to orphans,
and be like a husband to their mother;
you will then be like a son of the Most High,
and he will love you more than does your mother.