Rich in Faith

The Second Reading for Sunday, September 9th:

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality

as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please, ”
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?

James 2:1-5

What a perfect reminder to start the school year off right! There is a lot of pressure in school to look right, and looking right costs money. Every year, a new group of students enters the building, each being judged quickly and effectively for what she or he looks like on the outside. Students admit to spending a great deal of time and money on their appearance, especially early in the fall when their reputations have not yet been determined by their peers. In almost every school setting I have been in, there are students in “gold rings and fine clothes,” and there are students in “shabby clothes.” These two groups of students are often treated differently by other students and even by teachers. The last school I taught in had uniforms, but socio-economic class could still be easily distinguished by things like shoes, backpacks, accessories and phones.

This reading adds a whole new spiritual weight to our lunchroom experience. Saying, “Sit here,” to a friend and telling others to “Sit at my feet,” marks us as judges with evil designs. Those are pretty strong words that we can take as a challenge this school year. If you accept this reading as a challenge for you this year, however, being conscious of your own personal prejudices and inclusivity could be a powerful spiritual practice, a way to live out your faith every day.

Our human brains snap stereotypes as we walk down the hallway. It is a skill that our brains have to file information quickly and efficiently. The way we stereotype is deeply affected by messages we are receiving from media and the world about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Companies like Apple, Sperry and Nike market heavily to young people to make sure you equate their product with being cool. We have been socialize to think it is better to be rich than poor. Recognizing these factors and not letting them affect how we treat each other is the key. It is human to have stereotypes and make judgements. This reading is calling us not to voice them and act on them. Conversely, by noticing them and choosing not to act on them, we can dismantle some of the socio-economic discrimination that happens in our schools. You have the power, this year, to not feed into stereotypes and love God by loving your classmates. Loving your classmates may look like being inclusive of people who, on the surface, do not fit in. It may look like sitting with and getting to know all your classmates, regardless of how many gold rings they have.

Maybe you are the student with the shabby clothes. The truth is, there are many different ways we can stereotype each other. In school, it is easy to gravitate to the people who think, look and act like us. This reading is calling us to cross some boundaries this year, and give a classmate who you do not normally interact with a chance to get to know you for who you really are.

Does how you dress matter in your school? Do you think money matters? Do students with more money get treated differently? How or how not?

What are the dynamics of your lunchroom at school? Is there such at thing as a more prestigious spot to sit? Are there students who are made to feel left out? How?

What can you do this school year to notice your own prejudices and overcome them to include others? Who can you get to join you in this pursuit?

Photo courtesy of nigel_appelton via Creative Commons Licence
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