If you want to know how far your congregation has come from the fellowship that first followed Jesus, then take a serious look at the book of James. Last week, I looked at how churches today often chase unicorns and silly superstitions, rather than engaging in pure religion, which according to James 1:27, involves caring for widows and orphans. The second chapter of James goes a step further in helping us to see how what we do with our everyday Christianity today is a long ways from Jesus. James was either a brother or cousin of Jesus, which depends upon your translation. He knew first hand the simplicity of what Jesus actions and practical teachings. What we have lost in our modern sophistication is the love Jesus had for the poor.
James asks a rhetorical question, one that is supposed to be quickly answered, “Yes” or “Of course I do.” How quickly and freely do you say yes to the following?
“Do you believe that the poor actually have been chosen by God to be rich in faith?” and, “Don’t you realize that the poor have a special place in God’s Kingdom?”James 2:5
Jesus says yes in the following teachings:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort
(Luke 6:20 & 24)
James, himself, makes sure that we don’t pass over this statement of faith by contrasting God’s treatment of the poor with the way the rich treat them (us). The rich blaspheme the name of Jesus (James 2:6). Obviously, the real saints of his congregation are people of limited means. From his humble birth in Nazareth to his current position as the Bishop of Jerusalem, James has not seen the rich do anything of worth to advance the Kingdom.
When I read James, I find myself reconsidering the radical statement that some Liberation Theologians make, that being poor is a prerequisite for understanding Jesus. Throughout the Bible we hear an oft repeated warning, friendship with wealth never ends well. Those who have been born with it, need to flee into the wilderness — do a Saint Francis of Assisi style run — to be purged of its effect. Those who have earned it, must cauterize all thoughts that they are somehow better people because they played life’s game to achieve this sordid end. All of us need to live by the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy:
Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. - I Timothy 6:6-10