"You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." Isn't this the way we typically operate in our leadership responsibilities? Why do we work harder to impress the boss and wealthy clients and slack when surrounded by lower-level employees and customers who appear less important? Are we motivated to perform only for those who can help us get ahead? In this week's episode, the epistle of James challenges those who would serve and lead in the Lord's household to "show no partiality," with the reminder that "mercy triumphs over judgment."
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You are listening Doulos a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm happy to have Fr. Marc Boulos with me again on this week's episode. Welcome, Fr. Marc!
Fr. Marc Boulos 0:24
It's good to be here, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 0:26
As I was thinking about this week's episode, and the types of leadership challenges we face that scripture addresses head on, I thought about the saying "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours," and how this often manifests itself in working hard for the boss or for our wealthy clients on the one hand, and on the other hand slacking off when we are surrounded by lower level employees or customers who appear less important because we can't imagine that they could do anything of benefit for us. Translate that into a church setting, it seems people gesticulate more piously when the bishop visits, but they tend to let their guard down when there isn't a hierarch to impress. When the bishop visits, we make the sign of the cross and bow our heads more emphatically, we make bigger donations. And we might even stick around for the entire service when we have the bishop to impress. But when we know the priest is on vacation, it's tempting to let ourselves off the hook, forgetting that there might be visitors, or that we still have a duty to care for our brothers and sisters within the community. And what's worse, sometimes we have a wealthy benefactor in our midst, and it's not uncommon to hold banquets in his honor, and name buildings after him. But for the poor widow who offers a mite, we don't hold banquets in her honor or name buildings after her even though she demonstrates deep faith. So I thought about the Apostle James and his epistle where he reminds us to "show no partiality." Fr. Marc, you know what I'm talking about, like in a work setting, a church setting, school settings, we all tend to extend more honor and perform more diligently when we think there's someone to impress.
Fr. Marc Boulos 2:04
Well, to be clear, and I think this is important to understand in terms of hearing James's letter. The bishop is not a visitor, it's his church. So if you are in line with James, who is in line with Paul, you are accountable, to be more careful in the bishop's presence. Within the Pauline framework, the bishop is your patrician, he is the head of the household under the apostle, who is under Christ. So the pressure you feel when he is present is correct, and scriptural, no matter your intentions, specifically, because it pertains to the gospel, and not to money. It reflects exactly the pressure that the Epistle of James is putting on its addressees. In James, the rich man pertains to his own wealth earned by his own hands, and passes sentence on the poor, which comes up in chapter five, because he pertains to himself and what he earns with his own hands. He actually stands in contrast to the patrician of the household of faith under the apostle. That's why Paul and James who's within the Pauline school and later as you know, Chrysostom, all of these writers, scriptural and post scriptural, are extremely harsh, in their personal condemnation of wealth and the wealthy. But James more so than Paul in this letter.
Hollie Benton 3:39
So in setting up the passage from James's Epistle, it is this letter that contains the famous passage, "faith without works is dead." Verbal or mental faith is not enough. It's not a mark in the flesh, which was a major point of contention between the Apostle Paul and the other so-called pillars of the faith that Paul's letter to the Galatians recounts. Faith must work. It is an action. Faith is more a verb and less a noun.
Fr. Marc Boulos 4:04
There's no such thing as a verbal or mental faith. You can't hold faith. You either trust in the instruction and obey or you don't trust. You don't hold trust in that sense, as something you possess, the way we say we hold these things to be self evident as Americans. It's not something you believe and carry around. You trust and obey, meaning you trust the instruction, or you do not trust and therefore do not obey. There's no gap, there's no daylight between trust and obedience. And this is what James is clarifying and reiterating about Paul's teaching. If you do not have trust, you will not do the commandment. If you trust the commandment, nothing will stop you from doing it. It's a kind of tautology. We don't think it is because we convince ourselves to justify our own sloth, that we trust God, even though we don't do what we're supposed to. It's like someone who says, "I want to do this," and never does it. You console yourself that it's your desire to do it. But the reality is you're lying to yourself and others. Never allow yourself to say I want to do a thing. Either do it or don't do it. That's how you have to understand trust and obedience and scripture, don't tell God I trust and then watch Netflix. It won't work. And that's, of course, emphasized in Matthew left and right. Many will say Kyrie! Kyrie! James is teaching what we heard recently on Tarazi Tuesdays on the Bible as Literature from Genesis chapter 26. It was not because of trust only, but because Abraham obeyed me and fulfilled his duty to me, and kept my commandments, my statues and my laws, that he was blessed. And this is Fr. Paul's point on a recent episode, that this is why people misread (the Apostle) Paul. First, they hear the word faith, and they start talking about ideas, thoughts, words, whatever. They're not talking about trust. And then they ignore Genesis chapter 26, verse five, where it says very clearly that it was because Abraham obeyed me, because trust and obedience go together, like fried eggs and ham. You can't take them apart.
Hollie Benton 6:35
So I'd like to read James 2:1-13. It's a great reminder for me to extend mercy just as the Lord has shown me great mercy. Here it is, "My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings, and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, have a seat here, please, while you say to the poor man, stand over there or sit at my feet, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich and faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love Him. But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the honorable name which was invoked over you? If you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, do not commit adultery, said also do not kill. If you do not commit adultery, but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy, yet mercy triumphs over judgment. Fr. Marc, say a little bit more about this passage and its call to show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Fr. Marc Boulos 8:29
With respect to this word partiality, in Greek, prosopolepsia, it's an extremely interesting and important word. Because it's proof positive, it's functional evidence of the interconnection between James and Paul's letter to the Galatians. Because it's a technical term from Galatians. We all recognize it, "God shows no partiality." In Greek, though, specifically, it means reception of the face. In Hebrew, it means the raising of the face before the judge. And it's important to understand the original meaning of this term, both in the Greek and the Hebrew, because it places it in its proper setting, in the court of judgment. What James is doing is reflecting what Paul is teaching in Galatians, but also in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere. Remember 1 Corinthians 4, you cannot judge before the time. So when he's talking about showing no partiality, it's not about favoritism, as it's poorly translated in some English manuscripts. It's about not daring to pass judgment, because it's impossible for you as an addressee of James's letter to be impartial because you're under judgment. And the Lord is coming to judge. So how can you judge before the time? You're warned repeatedly not to judge before the time. At the same time, and this is what's so difficult for people about scripture, just as Paul is announcing the Lord's righteous judgment over and over again, so to is James. He is, as I said earlier, passing judgment on the wealthy. It's a very harsh letter, because they pertain to a reference other than scripture. That's the key. Richard said it so eloquently on this week's episode of the Bible as Literature. If someone is reading scripture to you, their personal integrity is irrelevant. If they are saying what James said, or what Paul said, you're bound by it, because you're bound by James, and you're bound by Paul. So if James is announcing the judgment of the coming Lord against the wealthy, you can't judge the wealthy. But the text is judging the wealthy. It's classic in the New Testament, because the poor person has no value because we don't value scripture, we value money. And the wealthy have value, because they value what they've wrought with their own hands. So the value of the poor as a literary metaphor, is that his weakness makes it very clear that if he has a value, it's only because it was added to him by the commandment of God. And the whole scriptural tradition is pounding, pounding, pounding first on Israel, and later on the baptized, that you have no value, and you are not distinct from anyone else. In fact, you are worse than the others. The only value you have is my instruction, which you're supposed to trust. But how can you trust my instruction if you're a self made millionaire? That's the value of the metaphor. That's why he's playing with rich and poor. It's classic and scripture, Hollie, that's the mechanism at play.
Hollie Benton 12:10
So it sounds like the Apostle James isn't calling for a turn of the tables. He's not saying you should dishonor or judge against the wealthy and honor only the poor. I think there are some people who in their zeal, despise wealth, but I don't think that's what James is calling for. He's challenging those of us who make distinctions among ourselves and become judges with evil thoughts. He's calling us to remember the mercy we have been shown. And in so remembering, extending mercy to others, including those who in no way can scratch our backs if we scratch theirs. But let me ask you, Father, about practicality. If we are to show no partiality, how do we secure our businesses, our jobs and our upward mobility through the company? How do we secure favor with those who can help our churches or nonprofits grow and potentially extend more resources to others?
Fr. Marc Boulos 13:05
I'm going to answer you with the letter from James. "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth eaten, your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be evidence against you, and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth, in luxury and in pleasure. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, katadikazo, you have passed sentence, you have killed the righteous man. He does not resist you." That's my answer, Hollie. With respect to the last question . . .
Hollie Benton 14:16
The letter of James tells it all.
Fr. Marc Boulos 14:18
It does say it all Hollie.
Hollie Benton 14:20
At the very least it should bring some awareness, realizing that we do show partiality. We do judge. A lot of that has to do with just the simple fact that we have a family to feed and a roof to keep over heads. But James is very clear on showing no partiality.
Fr. Marc Boulos 14:40
The thing about the rich and the poor or the prostitute and the thief which are other examples of this mechanism. We dress up in nice clothes at church, pretty vestments, we sing beautiful music, we fill the air with wonderful fragrances, we groom ourselves. Less so these days, people care less for how they prepare themselves when they come to church than they used to in this country in the past, but still in an Orthodox setting, we are very consumed with beauty. It's our biggest sin that we equate beauty with righteousness, or beauty with what is good and acceptable in the eyes of the Lord, when scripture is saying again and again, that what's precious in God's eyes, often is very ugly in our eyes, or has no value in our eyes.
Hollie Benton 15:39
A broken and contrite heart.
Fr. Marc Boulos 15:41
Yes, I mean, that's what's at play here. And we have all this paraphernalia, you have your worship, and you feel good about yourself. And you start to believe that because of your worship, you're something other than everybody else, but you're no different than the prostitute, or perhaps worse in God's eyes, who is the only judge. But you deceive yourself because, like the Greek philosophers, you equate goodness with beauty and righteousness, with beauty with appearances, it's idolatry. Seeing is not believing, trusting what you hear, from the one reference, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Scripture. And then the evidence of that trust is the doing. Right, remember trust and obedience, they go together. Now here's the rub, the prostitute in the gospels, or the disregarded, poor person in the Epistle of James, the one that we throw away, the one that we disrespect, the one that we think has no value, because God added his Torah to that person. They shine brightly like the stars of heaven, while we are diminished with our gold vestments, and our sweet smelling fragrances, and our beautiful chanting, and our fancy cars, and our expensive houses. I mean, you know, we could go on giving examples, James is far more eloquent. He makes Shakespeare look like a two year old in his ability to insult the wealthy, and it's beautiful. It's sad that we avoid these insults because they're beautiful and edifying. We should embrace them, not hide from them. We should recite them every day in the mirror.
Hollie Benton 17:37
Unto our instruction and edification.
Fr. Marc Boulos 17:40
Hollie Benton 17:42
Thank you, Fr. Marc.
Fr. Marc Boulos 17:43
Take care, Hollie.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai