The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 12: Conclusion

The most striking theme in the whole letter is the denunciation of the rich and the powerful, and the corresponding concern for the poor and the oppressed. Which is evident in the vehement denunciation of social injustice, oppression and exploitation, above all in the direct attack on the rich traders and merchants (4:13-17) is integrally connected (cf. also 4:1-12), and the same point is sharply evident also in 2:6-7, even though this section is dealing mainly with the issue of favouritism within the community, and is not addressed directly to the poor. James in this section exposes ruthlessly the sources of power relationships and the causes of conflict, oppression and social unjustice. To live for personal gain and to exploit the poor and defenceless is the epitome of evil; above all it is in direct contradiction to what God requires (2:5). Yet at the same time James insists that it is not simply the direct exploitation and oppression of the poor by the rich that constitutes the problem. It is also the obsequious favouring of the rich and powerful, for the favour it is hoped they will bestow, and the contemptuous treatment of the poor, because they can offer nothing, that serves to reinforce the injustice, suffering and imbalance of power (2:1-7). James sets these issues in eschatological perspective, above all that of final judgement[1].

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The Scandal of partiality in the Epistle of James

Part 11: Mercy should have the final say

Therefore, being guilty as charged James in verse 12 calls upon his audience to be responsible and own up to their guilt as they are accountable by they have done to judgement while verse 13 speaks of mercy being rendered only unto those who renders mercy (reminiscent of the Mosaic antecedent ‘eye for an eye’ in Leviticus 24:19–21, Exodus 21:22–25, and Deuteronomy 19:21) while at the same time reminding his audience of the paradoxical statement where mercy triumphs over judgement. In a way this shows that as far as dealing with sin (partiality) is concerned justice must have the first word, however it cannot have the last as mercy is important because James in writing this epistle reproofs his audience so that they would repent and in so doing have their fellowship restored regardless of their economic standing, thus putting into effect the royal law according to the Scripture, that is to: love our neighbour as ourselves!