Second Reading: James 5:1-6

Railing Against The Rich

Popular Translation

1 Come on now, rich people! Cry out loud for the hard times that are coming for you. 2 Your money is rotten. Your clothes are eaten up with moths. 3 Your gold and silver are rusty. Its rust will show everyone the kind of people you really are. And its rust will eat you up like a roaring fire! You saved your money for retirement. 4 But, look! You cheated the workers who cut down your wheat. Now, the money you owe them cries out against you! And God All-Powerful will hear their complaints against you! 5 You lived a life of extreme luxury off of your farm lands. You got fat on the day the farm animals are killed for their meat. 6 You judged the innocent man “Guilty” and killed him. But he doesn’t even try to defend himself against you.

Literal Translation

1 Come now, rich (people), cry wailing for your hardships the (ones) approaching. 2 Your riches are rotten and your clothes have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver is rusted and their rust will be a witness against you and (it) will eat your flesh like fire. You laid up treasure for (your) last days. 4 Look! The wages of workers having cut down (the grain on) your lands, the (wages) having been deprived by you cries out, and the loud cries of the (ones) having harvested have entered the ears of the Lord, the Lord of Hosts. 5 You lived off the earth lavishly and indulged yourself (lavishly), you filled your hearts (to overflowing) on the day of slaughter; 6 you damned, you murdered the righteous man; he does not defend (himself) against you.

5:4 “Lord of Hosts” is literally “Sabaoth,” a military title for God. The “Lord of hosts” painted a great king at the head of his vast army (the “hosts”).

The diatribe of James against the rich was a cultural prejudice among the common people of the ancient world. With ninety-five percent of the Roman Empire classified as “poor,” rich people were caricatured and looked upon with disdain. James did not equate money with evil, however. He described the rich as money hungry and money hoarders. “Rich,” in the eyes of James, was not the size of a bank account, but an attitude that put money above everything else.

There were several items of note in this passage. James implied the Second Coming would be a judgment against the rich (the warning of hard times in 5:1 and the cries that heard by God in 5:4). Money was hard currency (gold and silver in 5:3); overtime these metals tarnish (i.e., “rust”). Like many other riches (clothes in 5:2), money itself was transitory. Finally, the people who served the rich were the same ones who the rich oppressed (the farmers in 5:4 and the righteous man in 5:6). Taken together, the rich lived only for the moment, but they had the intension to maintain their lifestyle. This attitude blinded them to the greater vision that faith presented. Wealth faded, but sure faith did not. In fact, God would right any wrong committed by the rich against the poor, especially at the end of the world.

The words of James give us pause. We have creature comforts that make us the envy of the world’s poor. How do we respond to the needs of the poor, both here at home and abroad? If James were alive today, could he use these same words against us?

How have you helped the poor and needy recently? How have they helped you to grow?