Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
As a local church minister I was very involved with a local primary school. One joy of this was doing ‘hot seat’ sessions, mostly with Key Stage 2 pupils. They could ask whatever they liked, and it was always great fun – not least because of the panic on teachers’ faces when they came up with questions about death and funerals.
One of the other topics that made the adults uncomfortable was money. “How much do you get paid Clare?” came up on a regular basis. My standard answer was that I was paid enough to live on, but not nearly as much as I might earn in another job. Whilst this is totally truthful, it’s easy to use the logic of this to pretend that I’m not rich, that these words in James are not for me!
Of course that is rubbish. Even in the UK I am comfortably off, with a stipend, and housing provided. In the context of the world as a whole, I am rich. I may not be in the Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos category, but I am rich.
So for those of us who are rich, two thoughts from this passage:
Firstly, God listens to the poor and the downtrodden. God hears the cries of the labourers. David Sheppard’s 1984 book ‘Bias to the Poor’ challenged the government of that time – and is perhaps even more pertinent now. The way in which we treat those who have the least, in this country, let alone the wider world is, I suspect worse now than back then.
Secondly, whatever we own, it is impermanent. Having more brings greater responsibility. Being rich may increase our chances of a long life, but in the end it counts for nothing. Whilst the chemistry of gold rusting is questionable, the principle of “you can’t take it with you” is always true.
Acknowledging our privilege, stewarding our wealth rather than hoarding, listening to the downtrodden – that is what God wants of us.
God of grace and God of glory,
on thy people pour thy power…
…Cure thy children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to thy control;
shame our wanton selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal. Amen