I dare any preacher to read today’s passage of James 5:1-6 to a gathering of bankers, large landowners, rich donors, or Wall Street traders.
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over the miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches are rotting… Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts…. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have felt happy while others were murdered. You have easily condemned and murdered the just one…
I doubt few preachers would get away with this – unless they spiritualize the message.
But as I see the large numbers of people on the back of cattle trucks coming back from picking coffee, I realize this is a message that needs to be heard today, especially in place like Honduras.
As I see the building projects here in Santa Rosa or visit Central America’s largest mall in Tegucigalpa ,and pass by the houses made of sticks and mud, with dirt floors, I realize that James was not only talking about first century economics.
The gap between rich and poor is a scandal, especially when the rich call themselves followers of Christ.
I know there are rich who do share their gifts with those in need, but studies show that the poor are generally more generous that the rich who often give to benefit charities that assist their own interests.
But it is easy to cast aspersions on the rich. Not only have I benefited from the generosity of several people with money, but I have much more money than people here. What I get each month from my Social Security check is a third more than the salary of some professionals I know.
I recalled all this when I read today’s Gospel, Mark 9: 41-50. Jesus castigates those who harm the little ones and then remarks that, if your hand, your foot, or your eye causes you to sin, you should dismember yourself, lest you be thrown into Gehenna, “where the worms do not die and the fire never goes out.”
I immediately thought of the night a few months ago when I found that book worms had eaten into several of my books and destroyed several of them beyond repair.
“Where your treasure is, there is your heart,” Jesus said.
Am I really free of the covetousness that James denounced in the rich?
As I often do, I also read today’s Gospel in Spanish and looked at the Greek. In some versions of this Gospel the phrase “where the worms never die and the fire never goes out” is found not just in verse 48, but also in verses 44 and 46 which are left out of many English translations. Not just once, but three times we are warned of the devouring worms and the unquenchable fire.
So I too need to let myself by challenged by Jesus, especially by the words of James. It may make we squirm – and hopefully be converted.