We've been studying the book of James for the last couple of months. It's remarkable how timely it is - proving, once again, that there's nothing new under the sun. One of the crucial mistakes that each generation makes is thinking that we know better than those who lived before us. We won't make those mistakes that they did in the last big economic bust; this time is different because of technology / education / free markets /whatever. It's as if we forget that humans are humans, likely to be greedy when markets float on the hot air of the arrogant, and likely to be fearful when uncertainty and losses burn hotter and spread faster than we can hose them down.
Reading James in these times is remarkable because we can hear prophetic words in a book considered to be "wisdom literature" by most scholars. Consider the messages to the rich and poor in the 5 short chapters. The rich should "boast in being brought low" (ch. 1) and not "in [their] arrogance." (ch.4) They should weep and wail for the miseries that are coming because their riches have rotted, and their gold and silver have rusted (ch.5).
James 2 chastises people who fawn over the rich and demean the poor ("maybe the poor haven't worked out enough to pull themselves up by their boot straps, or they're just lazy", they say). In ch. 3, James could very well be warning trash-talking TV & radio hosts how their words have contributed to the whole cycle of nature being set alight. Their tongues are likened to the venom of poisonous snakes, or the ember that sets a forest alight and which is set on fire by hell. Why do so many people who believe themselves to worship Jesus Christ tune their radios and TV's to these hosts? There are ways to speak truth without fanning flames of polarization and division.
The irony of claiming to be Christian while failing to honor others, verbally and in actions, made in the image of God shows up throughout this letter. These are the "hearers [of the word] who deceive themselves", who "look at themselves in a mirror...and, on going away, immediately forget what they are like...[they are] hearers who forget." (ch.1) Their so-called "religion" is worthless.
James spoke to Christians in the midst of furor and upheaval with the certainty of one walking closely with Godself. Patience, endurance, meekness, peacefulness, mercy, purity, gentleness, truthfulness, humility, compassion, and wisdom characterize the "doers of the word...those who look into the perfect law of liberty, and persevere...doers who act - they will be blessed in their doing." Being patient in suffering is a sign of trust in the Lord. How short-term is human focus! Always has been, always will be! Endure this time, patiently, and keep looking to the Lord, remembering the prophets and believers who've trusted the Lord through their own traumatic times and dangers. In this time of fear, frustration, and anger at being defrauded by the rich, James calls us to worship God, to take care of one another, to feed the widow and the orphan, to work patiently and diligently, to pray for wisdom from God and for healing of one another.
Finally, his advice to the rich is to weep and wail - most of us hear those words as "you'll get yours!" Rather, I believe he is calling them to repent of their fraud, their hoarding of wealth to the deprivation of the poor, and their failure to do what they know is right. (ch.4:13-5:6) The truth, for James, is that those who fail to do the word, who fail to persevere in blessing everyone made in the image of God, are those who've "condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you."
How many pastors have been partial to the wealthy over the elderly, the poor, the widows, and the lonely? Whom have they been serving?