We all have favorite things and experiences in life: foods; music; colors; activities; books; games; sports; places; and more. We all have favorite people as well. I need not list mine here, but I definitely enjoy certain people as favorite friends. You could identify your own, too, without a doubt.
Having favorite things, experiences, and people is not intrinsically wrong. It is in many ways quite natural. Favoring this or that plays a significant part in the rich composition of our individuality and our relations with the world around us.
Yet having favorites, when it comes to people, can all too easily decline into favoritism. Favoritism in our dispositions and behaviors consists of valuing and aiding people or groups to the detriment of others. In this regard, favoritism has little or nothing to do with love or enjoyment of people but more to do with a desire to curry favor in return, and even to become like those we favor. Whether blatant or insidious, favoritism ranges from distasteful to unfair to harmful.
In his letter to followers of Jesus, James warned against favoritism. In the world then, as now, favoritism warped toward the benefit of the rich and powerful. How insidious this was for those believers! It infected the heart of their faith. As they gathered for worship, some gave preferential treatment to wealthy and important attendees, even to the slighting of more ordinary and poor members. The place where followers of Jesus most receive, enjoy, and celebrate God’s lavishly merciful love degraded to worldly attitudes and actions counter to that love.
James clearly condemned such favoritism in the Christian community, particularly in the context of worship. In doing so though, he added a surprising twist to his admonition. He did not warn against favoritism because God treats all equally. Rather, favoritism toward the rich and powerful is wrong because God actually favors “those who are poor in the eyes of the world….” For those who fall by the wayside in the world’s pitiless economy, God goes out of his way to find and pick them up in his lavishly merciful love. God chooses and wills them “to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom….”
Do we align with the world or with God? Do we, in ways subtle or obvious, favor the rich and powerful? Do we slight or ignore those who are not rich and powerful in the world’s way? Or, as followers of Jesus, do we walk with God along the wayside to find and pick up those out of favor in this world? In short, do we, as James reminds us, keep the royal law of loving our neighbor as ourselves?