The Hungry Coat makes a marvelous illustration for James’ stern warning against showing partiality to the wealthy and well-dressed. Children’s author and illustrator Demi retells a delightful folk tale about Sufi mystic Nasrettin Hodja. Nasrettin was known for his wisdom and wit, and many stories are told about him. If you search for them, you will find many spellings of his name, including Nasrudin, Nasreddin and Nasr-id-deen.
In this story a friend invites Nasrettin to a banquet. Wearing his old patchwork coat, Nasrettin sets out for the banquet. Along the way he stops to help capture a runaway goat. When Nasrettin arrives at his friend’s house, the friend, the servants, and all the other guests ignore him. He realizes that it is because his coat is now dirty and smelly as well as worn-out. Nasrettin hurries home, bathes, puts on a magnificent new coat, and returns to the banquet. Now everyone is glad to welcome him. Delicious food is set before him, which he proceeds to feed to his coat. “Eat, coat! Eat!” he says. The host and guests are aghast. “Why surely you wanted my coat to eat,” Nasrettin responds. “When I first arrived in my old coat, there was no food for me. Yet when I came back in this new coat, there was every kind of food for me. This shows that it was the coat–and not me–that you invited to your banquet.”
James writes, “For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (vss.4-5).
For at God’s banquet it is the poor and sick and marginalized who have priority seating.