Most religious beliefs aren’t suited for Yes/No, no qualifiers, interrogations. The Republican field of candidates was asked to indicate by a show of hands whether they would support the nominee if it was not them. Simple question, answer Yes or No. In the Baptism ritual we ask a series of similarly simple — no grey area — questions. Beyond this, what other assertions deserve this treatment? In James 2:5, a rhetorical question is asked and James assumes that we will answer confidently, “Yes.” That question goes like this:
“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?”
You know that the answer should be yes, because Jesus (James’ brother) says:
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. I think that James would find himself connecting with today’s Pope Francis. Or perhaps I should say that Pope Francis is helping us to hear again this biblical voice that we have long ignored.
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 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