“Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you… You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.” (James 5:1, 6 NRSV)
The ideology which James maintains carries with it scathing words of rebuke for the “rich people… who have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure.” However, is there anything wrong with wealth? Everybody enjoys having nice possessions, so why would James, Jesus’ brother, rebuke those who enjoy their temporal, corporeal lives in the world?
James was a social reformer, and judging by this passage taken from his epistle, one can infer the presence of wealthy Jewish Christian in the first century of the church. To James, hoarding riches for oneself and living lavish lifestyles while those of the lower-class lived lives filled with hunger, thirst, and loneliness were ungodly. James’ mind would have been well-acquainted with a certain teaching of Christ. Eventually, it taught that the person of Christ resides within the hungry, within the thirsty, and within the lonely (Matt. 25:35). James saw the danger in living luxuriously lifestyles while letting the poor rot in the streets. James also saw that form of indifference as a deeply ungodly and non-Christian way of living. It was in this context that James penned the words, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries…”
The lack of concern for the poor is a gaping hole in the existence of the Christian church. Considering James’ words in the first century, we can only imagine what sort of polemic would be employed against the modern body of Christ! Will the Church heed the social implications of the gospel? Will we turn a blind eye to those in the streets and a deaf ear to those who beg all who can listen for help?
The atoning life and work of Jesus Christ is inseparable from its practical implication, which is to care and aid those who are weak and needy. In fact, James taught that the only “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27 NRSV). The blessed apostle’s definition of pure religion and its social ramifications remains as incontrovertible and applicable today as it was in the first century. Will we heed them?
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How can you heed James’ definition of pure religion?