What a gloomy picture of rich people James portrays! While admittedly the description fits nicely for some, there are also plenty of “rich” people who have done very good things for the church and for the world with their wealth. James’ idea of rich people is rather tainted, isn’t it?
I found it interesting that while James harshly calls out rich people here, he doesn’t deliver any sort of direct call to change. He is simply telling them to lament their status before God. “Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you.”
What a topic! Who ever said the Bible was not relevant anymore! We do tend to be judgmental over appearances (I don’t think it’s just me). I’ve heard tell of a pastor who, on his first Sunday in his new church, dressed in tattered clothes and entered the building like every other parishioner. You can imagine the anticipation in church that day was palpable as the people waited to hear the new preacher! What a surprise the congregation had when their pastor came from the shadows where he had been asked to wait and walked up to take his place behind the pulpit. He preached a compelling, wordless sermon that day.
James’ Jewish audience must have needed to hear about the dangers of prejudice. It isn’t a bad reminder for any of us. There has to be a healthy way to associate with people who are different from us. It’s easy to look at people and see them through the lens of some stereotype we’ve learned along the way. What helps me when I’m surrounded by people who look different than me (and in Mexico I am surely the minority) is to remember God loves them as much as he loves me.
One of the basic themes of James’ letter is that God exalts the poor and humbles the rich. Why does he do that? It’s so only the humble can boast. Think about that for a second. When we allow God to work in our lives and give God the credit for what we have accomplished, our whole mindset shifts. Who gets the glory? Certainly not us, and rightly so.
Even Paul was clear on this. He told us he was glad to boast about his weaknesses because that showed God at work when he overcame times of adversity. Our text here in James is using the example of being poor and rich. James may be recalling Psalm 49:6 which reads, “They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches.” Think about some wealthy people you know. Do they humble themselves before God and give God the credit for their abundance? Or are they more like the one described by the psalmist?
Up to this point in our Proverbs’ texts, we have been
preparing for this chapter and those to follow. Solomon has a lot to say about
being wise and being foolish. We have met Wisdom and her counterpart, Folly. As
we move forward in this book, known as wisdom literature, along with
Ecclesiastes, we will see examples of wise and foolish actions.
Some of these examples will speak to you and others will not.
If you shall read these verses a month from now or at some later date, it is
entirely possible that other verses will speak to you. For purposes of my
reflection, I will write on those verses that speak to me, and I encourage you
to enter into the conversation and share in the comments what verses are
speaking to you today.
In this passage we are given hope and a warning, or word of caution. Nobody wants to have sorrow or misfortune, so the second part of today’s reading can be a bit frightening. The first half, however, is very uplifting.