Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (James 5:1-6) transports me to the land of ill-gotten gain where the lap of luxury is covered with moth-eaten designer dresses, where corroded jewels suddenly come to life, speaking out against the owners and eating their flesh like fire. The low wages of farmhands and other working stiffs even spring into speech, crying out against the greed of the payrollers. I love the way the Bible was so far ahead of today’s fantasy literature, having inanimate characters come to life and testify on behalf of God. Imagine precious metals and paychecks gaining a voice and crying out against the injustice accorded their status. What would they sound like? What accents would they utilize? Sounds like a good Pixar movie in the making.
Whatever their dialect, the rusted gold and silver and low wages are confident in their message: The self-indulgent indulge in murder and shed innocent blood. Why? Just because they can. This is the essence of James’ condemnation of wealth, the way it engenders abuse of power that goes unchecked and unregulated. As Lord Acton wisely said in his oft quoted statement, Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. James understood, money is power. And those who have access to unlimited stashes of samolians unwittingly walk into the trap of absolute corruption. Luxury is not a good incubator for living out the lifestyle of Jesus. And yet our consumptive culture fools us again and again into longing for luxury. Occasionally, the culture hints at another way. I remember an episode of Andy Griffith, A Black Day for Mayberry, where Barney let the cat out of the bag that an armored truck full of gold was coming through town. My favorite scene is where a crowd of people has lined the street, waiting to cheer the passing truck. Everyone is celebrating, except for an old bearded mountaineer named Regis. He’s holding up a sign that says Down With the Gold Standard and he harangues the people as being barbarians! worshipers of mammon! When he is run off, (an early example of an occupier being evicted!) he hands the sign to Gomer, who keeps telling people, I’m just minding it for Regis. That sentence became the name for our seminary chapter of the Andy Griffith Re-Run Watchers Club.
It’s a bit ironic that the Regis people know today is not the prophetic ranter against filthy lucre, but is instead the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. May the warning sign of that earlier mountaineer Regis and the weeping and wailing of the miserable rich serve to slow down our obsessive work for wealth, and cause us instead to redouble our efforts to live the life of Jesus. May we focus on the cross, where grace and mercy and love defined true wealth. As the old gospel song says, Rich in love, I’m rich, and not from Satan’s wages.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.