Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.


James 1:27 - 2:9: Keep from Being Polluted by the World
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 1:27–2:9 NIV)

Loving one’s neighbor is the key to a Christianity that is understood and lived out well. James sums it up in this way: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:27).

James warns us not to be contaminated by the world. What does that mean? The world here should not be understood as a geographical place, but as a state of mind. “The world” attributes value to each person according to superficial criteria.

Verse 2 is difficult to translate. A good alternative could be this: My brothers and sisters, do not find in outward signs a reliable indication of the glory granted by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek verb “to find in outward signs,” translated above by “show favoritism” contains the word prosōpon which means, among other things, the mask worn by actors in the theater. James offers two examples of these outward but superficial signs in the following verse—a gold ring and fine clothes.

Being polluted or contaminated by the world thus means letting our eyes be dazzled by gold and riches, sometimes literally. In that case, we treat better our brother or sister who shines out and wears an attractive mask, and not so well the one who is less opulent. This is literally a blasphemy (James 2:7).

This attitude is the opposite of God’s outlook; for God each person matters. “Loving others as oneself” is a call to see others as God sees them, saying to all without exception: You are precious in my sight and I love you (Isaiah 43:4). Judging people according to the criteria of the world blind us to this way of seeing.

God loves everyone, and particularly the poor. Clearly to say “all are equal, especially the poor” is a paradox. That is because the “spirit of the world” is everywhere. It is almost impossible to shed it. God told Isaiah: Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and my ways are not your ways (Isaiah 55:8). To stop thinking according to human categories and to see others the way God sees them requires constant attention, and probably a good dose of the Holy Spirit as well.

In God’s steps, we are thus called to compensate for the injustice of the “world” by according particular attention to seeing that the poor are not belittled. An English bible-scholar, Richard Bauckham, puts it this way:

“God’s fatherly care for the poor (Psalm 68:5-6) is linked to justice. God assures justice to those who are deprived of it by the powerful, those from whom the rich profit (Psalm 146:7-9; Job 5:15-16). In other words, God’s impartiality requires him to act specifically for the benefit of the poor. We should note that for James, no more than elsewhere in the Bible, the poor are not considered simply as the unfortunate but those who have been treated unjustly by the rich (James 2:6; 5:4).”

We should also note that one does not have to be rich to think like a rich person. The problem is not so much how much wealth we have, but the attitude that consists in granting value to people according to their wealth or other outward signs.

Not letting oneself be polluted by the world is thus not a call to isolation, to shutting oneself up in an ivory tower of the “pure.” Rather, it means hearing the call to go towards others. The world judges according to surface appearances; Christians should be able not to remain there but to see in greater depth. For beyond the superficial categories of society, the call remains to recognize each person as my brother or sister.

- Do I tend to show importance to or disqualify people at first sight according to their outward appearance?

- How can i quiet that part of myself that urges me to pay more attention to those who are rich, influential or brilliant?

- Have there been times when i deliberately acted against the spirit of the world, in the name of the Love that God shows to the weak, the excluded and the vulnerable?

Other bible meditations:

Printed from: - 3 December 2023
Copyright © 2023 - Ateliers et Presses de Taizé, Taizé Community, 71250 France