Track 1: Favoritism vs. the Favor of God
How easy it is for us to judge the poor. The Book of James tells us that how we treat the poor says more about our character than that of the poor. James writes:
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 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, 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,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Jesus was once invited to the home of a leader of the Pharisees for a meal on the sabbath. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11)
Why would we give preferential treatment to the rich over the poor? Is it because we believe that they may be more able to do something for us in return than would the poor? Jesus said this to his host:
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)
James was a very practical man with some of that Old Testament wisdom. He reminds us that the rich do not always reciprocate our favors to them. James writes:
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? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (James 2:1-7)
The prosperous person does not always show generosity. Too often their focus is entirely on themselves. If there is a scripture that flies in the face of the prosperity gospel it is this one:
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? (James 2:5)
How could a person be rich in faith and still be poor? Might it not be that his or her treasure is a more lasting one than any of the riches of this world. Earthly riches do not necessarily demonstrate that we have the favor of God as opposed to someone else. From Luke’s Gospel we read:
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)
What defines our worth before God? Is it not the cross of Jesus Christ. We inherit the kingdom by what Jesus has done for us and not by what we could ever do for him.
This understanding frees us from any favoritism because we have the favor of God already. The Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel must have understood this intuitively. She would not believe that the mercy of God did not cover her daughter.
In Proverbs we read:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favour is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
the Lord is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
for they share their bread with the poor.
Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the Lord pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them. (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)
We remember the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus was a poor man, covered with sores. The rich man paid him little attention. Both of them went on to their final reward, Lazarus in heaven and the rich man in hell. Perhaps if the rich man had understood that his favor with God was more important than his favor with men, he would have been a little more generous to Lazarus. God has shown us his riches and generosity by this mercy. How do we demonstrate our riches?
Track 2: The Syrophoenician Woman
How do we hold on to our faith under difficult circumstances? Today we have an example of how this is done by the famous Syrophoenician woman. From today’s Gospel we read:
Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Mark 7:24-30)
Did this woman outsmart Jesus? No, she just spoke from a sincere heart. And what did her heart reveal? First of all, she did not claim to be anyone special. She was willing to be classified as a dog. She was not holding on to her self-esteem. She was embracing a hope in the mercy and loving kindness of God. It was not about her character. It was about the character of the Almighty.
God spoke to the Prophet Isaiah:
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For 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; (Isaiah 35:4-7a)
We are all fearful of heart about something. But fear is not from God. Fear is one of the weapons used by Satan. The Apostle Paul wrote:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
In life our faith is tested. Jesus did test the woman’s faith. No doubt, this was not the first time her faith was tested. She was able to persevere in her faith. And although she was a Gentile, she was able to recognize who Jesus was. Do we know who Jesus is? Do we know that God loves us? Or are we still ruled by fear that he does not? In his First Epistle, John wrote:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)
Today, let us settle in our hearts that God loves us. We remember what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. He has taken away all of our sins. Even without the knowledge of the cross, the Syrophoenician woman still knew that God loved her. She realized that the deliverance of her daughter did not depend so much on who she was, but on who God is. God is love. She would not give up on his love.
The Apostle Paul wrote this to the church in Rome:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
How can we abound in hope as did the Syrophoenician woman? By abounding in God’s love. Paul wrote:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)