This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
REMEMBER NATALYA GORBANEVSKAYA SOVIET HUMAN RIGHTS HEROINE
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
It is still true that man proposes, but God disposes
13-17 Just a moment, now, you who say, “We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit”! How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air. Your remarks should be prefaced with, “If it is the Lord’s will, we shall be alive and will do so-and-so.” As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.
Riches are going to prove a liability, not an asset, to the selfish
5 1-6 And now, you plutocrats, is the time for you to weep and moan because of the miseries in store for you! Your richest goods are ruined, your hoard of clothes is moth-eaten, your gold and silver are tarnished. Yes, their very tarnish will be the evidence of your wicked hoarding and you will shrink from them as if they were red-hot. You have made a fine pile in these last days, haven’t you? But look, here is the pay of the reaper you hired and whom you cheated, and it is shouting against you! And the cries of the other labourers you swindled are heard by the Lord of Hosts himself. Yes, you have had a magnificent time on this earth, and have indulged yourselves to the full. You have picked out just what you wanted like soldiers looting after battle. You have condemned and ruined innocent men in your career, and they have been powerless to stop you.
Ultimate justice will surely come: be patient meanwhile
7-8 But be patient, my brothers, as you wait for the Lord to come. Look at the farmer quietly awaiting his precious harvest. See how he has to possess his soul in patience till the land has had the early and late rains. So must you be patient, resting your hearts on the ultimate certainty. The Lord’s coming is very near.
9 Don’t make complaints against each other in the meantime my brothers (as you wait for Christ’s return)—you may be the one at fault yourself. The judge himself is already at the door.
10-11 For our example of the patient endurance of suffering we can take the prophets who have spoken in the Lord’s name. Remember that it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word “blessed!” You have heard of Job’s patient endurance and how God dealt with him in the end, and therefore you have seen that the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men.
On this last day of the new year, it’s good to receive the word of James, who reminds us all that earthly life is inherently uncertain. Only the arrogant imagine their plans are sure of realisation. And only those who have gained wealth by oppressing their brothers and sisters can think they have secured themselves against fortune’s slings and arrows. But even if they succeed in doing so, the voices of their victims cry out against them and are heard by the God who is near. This nearness is not temporal, it cuts across worldly time so that no human beings can escape it.
James is not arguing that we should leave the world they way it is, although he urges patient endurance on the victims of injustice. But surely his polemic is meant to turn the rich from their evil to live more justly and modestly.
There is some relationship between the language of this letter and the teachings of Jesus. Both speak soberly, clearly and forcefully about the way people behave. Both have words to describe the obvious injustices in society that those who benefit from the status quo want to ignore. In the UK in 2013 even the party formed to advance the cause of the wage labourers is afraid to use words like exploitation or inequality any more but drivels on about realising everyone’s potential. James does not encourage the poor to violent revolution, nor could he appeal to methods of political advocacy. He simply encourages his people to live in the community of faith and the hope of justice, developing the virtues they need to endure. But he makes it clear that the unrepentant rich cannot be part of this community and that the judge is at their door.
Many thanks to those who read this blog and sometimes comment. Your companionship is very encouraging. Blessings for 2014!