Surely you’ve heard some variation on this theme: It’s not what you do, it’s whose you are.
While that statement sounds uber-spiritual, does have a hint of truth to it, and would look great emblazoned on a fairtrade t-shirt, the text in James blows a raspberry at it, and then offers this corrective without apology:
Because of whose you are, what you do matters. A lot.
And while this text could be read to a general audience, there is a specific group the writer had in mind: the rich. Or as one translation puts it, “the arrogant rich.” Their continued stockpiling of wealth with no concern, much less thought, for the hearts and minds and souls and strength of the little people who were used and abused to make such wealth a reality, is a telling indication of whose the rich are not. If they were God’s people, they would act differently.
Most of us are, to some degree, the little people. So we raise a fist and cry, “You tell ‘em, James,” to which James responds, “I will. But hey, don’t forget the other texts for today, okay?” Sigh. Thanks a lot, James. For now we see that we, too, can be the arrogant rich. While God has very direct things to say with regard to endlessly amassing wealth, God also speaks equally direct things into other areas of our lives where we are to act differently because of whose we are.
The spirit found in James and his fellow writers is one of living generously, open-handed and open-hearted—embarrassingly so. Because of our identity in Christ, the singular thing we should expend any effort toward stockpiling on this earth is what we’ve been given: mercy. Now that can work itself out not in building bigger barns, but instead building better childcare. Or turning the other cheek, standing there and taking it like a man who knows the sting of mercy. Or staying loyal to those friends persecuted or imprisoned for their faith when the safest thing would be to turn tail and run away fast.
Whose we are is of the utmost importance in this life, because this identity drives both our words and actions. And those deeds matter.
Mercy, do they ever matter. A lot.
Written by John Blase