Now listen, you rich people …
- from James 5:1
As we round the corner into the end of the week, we run into James gathering momentum for a fiery and confrontational mini-sermon to the people he calls “you rich people.” You can read the whole thing in James 5:1-6.
The vast majority of the world’s population lives on less than $10 per day, making us some of the richest people living on the planet today (and in human history). Despite this, James’ words strike a discordant note with us. His accusations of hoarding wealth, cheating workers, and self-indulgent living seem like they should be targeted at someone else. It’s difficult to see ourselves in them and it’s difficult to consider ourselves as rich.
But if we will try to listen, James has a word for us. Although his helping hand comes as a slap across the face, God can use the pain of it to wake us from our daze. James warns the wealthy because he knows our wealth will fail us when we rely on it most. Wealth passes away. It causes us to be blind to opportunities. Defending our wealth and our right to be wealthy, we become people who we don’t want to be. We become God’s opponents.
Very few, if any, of James original readers would have landed in the “rich people” category. From elsewhere in the letter we know that many of them were poor and were being taken advantage of by the rich. For these readers, James’ prophetic word that the rich won’t get away with their abusive behavior rings with the good news of justice. God is paying attention. God cares. God will set everything right in the end.
And for us rich people, that message of good news still comes to us. Though our wealth will fail us, God never will. He can teach us to be generous to the poor. It’s not too late for us. If we repent, he will forgive all of our sins, including any injustice in which we’ve actively or passively participated. Christ the Innocent One has taken our judgment in our place and has liberated us to live generous lives of love and service.
Ask God today to shape the way you engage with wealth. Ask him to open your eyes to see how you need to change. Ask him to help you see where you need to ask forgiveness. Ask him to show you how to live as a rich person who is completely submitted to him.