Warning to rich oppressors - James 5 (NIVUK)
5 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 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. 4 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. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
This week our church home group tried to tackle this passage. It is indeed fiery stuff, though it's not the only place in the Bible such thoughts are written. (e.g. Amos 4;1 5;10-15 Isaiah 3;12-17 Luke 6;24-25). And even this weeks SU Word Alive Bible notes dealt with the rich young ruler and Jesus' one-liner about camels and the eye of a needle.
So how do we apply this stuff today. Indeed who are the rich and oppressors we may encounter today. Here's a possible list:
- The Saudi Princes wallowing in their oilfields
- The Russian oligarchs buying up the Premier League and half of
- The merchant banker gamblers who were responsible for the great crash of 2008
- The arms traders who sponsor war and terror
- The people traffickers who profit from human misery
- The politicians with mansions and duck houses funded at public expense
- The employers who put their staff on zero hours contracts and fail to pay the living and often the minimum wage
- The petty loan sharks and pay day lenders who profit from the desperate poor
- The DWP job centres who sanction desperate benefit claimants for trivial reasons
- The consumers who want a bargain regardless of who has been exploited in the process
- The affluent pensioners who rely on investments in less than ethical funds
- Every reasonably comfortable family who benefits from the global economic system
- and not least chiefly ourselves
We discussed in our home group whether, since James was speaking to "you rich" whether there were any rich oppressors in his audience in the early church. We didn't come to a conclusion about that, but we agreed it is clear that just being a Christian does not in itself protect you from the possibility of behaving like this. There is actually and potential sin in each one of us - perhaps it takes the commandment "Thou shalt not covet" to make it clear. And as James wrote in 2;10 whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it .
However, if James and Amos and Jesus were divinely inspired to cry out against the rich who oppressed "the least of these" then it seems obvious that we too have a right, and probably a duty, to denounce and warn the perpetrators when we see injustice and oppression in the church and the world around us. We may be less than perfect and less than pure ourselves, and as long as we are humble enough to admit that and rely on God's grace and forgiveness we are still called to cry loudly for justice anf freedom from oppression.
That of course may lead to denial, opposition and even martyrdom, but we are called to speak truth to power, and to pray that oppressors might repent and change their evil ways.