Now Listen, You Rich People…

by Catherine McNiel on November 23, 2021

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
                                                                       —James 5:1-6

It’s not very popular to talk about, but the Bible—and Jesus—have a lot to say about money and wealth. From the law books, to the prophets, to Jesus’ teaching, to the epistles, God’s views on money and property are too clear to misunderstand or ignore (but somehow, we still find a way to do both). If I had to summarize hundreds of chapters and thousands of verses of God’s teaching on this throughout the Bible, it would go something like this:

Don’t be okay living in a society where there is enough for everyone yet some have plenty while others go without. If you and your friends have enough, but others don’t, y’all have to do something about it. This is a huge part of how you love God and love your neighbor.  

If you’re feeling uncomfortable with what I’ve just said, join the club. I am too! This would require us to live very, very differently than we do. But I don’t see how we wiggle out of this. The United States is one of the top 5 wealthiest countries in the world, which in our global economy probably means we have a global responsibility. But the United States is also in the top 5 counties with the greatest wealth inequality—and the gap is growing rapidly. In other words, most of us are fairly comfortable in a country where there is plenty, but many go without. As Christians who believe the Bible is the Word of God, we have to face our responsibility to God in this.

We can easily point the finger at billionaires, but what about the plank in our own eyes? Are there people in our towns, neighborhoods, and churches who are struggling to make ends meet while we have enough? I know for sure that’s true for most of us—and the Bible says over and over again that that’s a major problem in God’s eyes. Especially if part of our comfort is because others are working without adequate pay or protection (and we know that’s true too, both globally and locally).

My brothers and sisters: What are we going to do about this? James invites us to weep and wail. Jesus invites us to sell what we have and give to the poor. Acts records Christians doing just that, on an ongoing basis, as part of their new Christian lifestyle in community—creating not dependents but brothers and sisters. This is not something we can do on our own. Obeying God in this would be an enormous upheaval. We need to wrestle with this together, pray about and confess this together, and act together. Not once, until we feel better, but all the time, until we are living as God has commanded us to live.

This is hard for us to talk about (much less do something about), but remember this:

My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

Questions for reflection and discussion: What do you think of this teaching? Why do you think we resist hearing and obeying, given how frequently God talks about this in the Bible? What are you going to do about it? How can learn to follow God, in this way, together?

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