In the Letter of James (2:1-17), Jesus’ brother reminds us of the importance of treating others as we would like to be treated, and the all too common temptation to do otherwise.

“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? 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 goes on to remind us of the importance of the great commandment: “You do well if you really fulfill the law according to scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Many years ago, I was the rector (pastor) of an Episcopal Church in New Orleans facing the difficulty of following James’ challenge to love all people as Christ loves us. New Orleans is a city where rich and poor often live side by side, and this makes for some interesting times in the churches of the city. We often had book studies and Bible studies in the homes of church members. During one such book study, a church member who lived mostly on the streets and made his living selling used books showed up. The next week, he brought a friend with him who worked as a dancer at a French Quarter bar and as a sometimes prostitute. She, too, became a member of our church. The hostess and I understood where she was coming from and simply could not live into James’ instruction to treat all comers the same. We talked and decided to move the book study to the church, after which she quit attending and finally left the church (temporarily). Through time and prayer and conversation, she came back to the church, we rebuilt our relationship and we remained friends for the remainder of her life.

It is not easy to follow James’ command to be “doers of the word and not merely hearers,” but through prayer and trust in God and in each other and haltingly doing our best to follow scripture and “love God and love our neighbor as ourselves,” it can, through God’s grace, happen.

As the writer of the Book of Proverbs reminds us (22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23):

“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.

“The rich and the poor have this in common: The Lord is the maker of them all.”

The Rev. Ben Alford is the former part-time rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville.