It’s not always good news to be rich. It can lead to depending on self rather than on God. It can give someone an over inflated sense of their own importance. In the section of the Letter of James for the day, he makes it plain what he thinks of those who allow their riches to adversely affect their behaviour. Meanwhile the reading from the gospel shows us how Jesus treats even someone as low in society as a blind beggar-man shouting for help.
The readings at the Thursday 2pm service were Psalm 49:12-20, James 5:1-6 and Mark 10:46-end. My reflection is given below:
I wonder if when you were young you used to say the little nursery rhyme:
Rich man, poor man,
Versions of this rhyme have been found from as long ago as 1695. There are several different variations on the internet, including some in German. The idea was to count fruit stones, such as cherries or plums, from a portion of pie, or buttons or daisy petals, in order to determine who you might be or marry when grown up. I’m not sure just how helpful it ever was as the answer tends to come out differently every time!
In today’s readings we don’t have the first four professions in the list but we do have the last four.
James doesn’t mince his words about the rich. All the treasures they have gathered up are going to rot and be worth nothing, even silver and gold will rust. The pleasures afforded by such riches are at best temporary and passing. Storing treasure on earth rather than in heaven is not wise. The psalmist too is sure the rich will not be so well off after death. They are due to go straight down to the pit where their beauty will waste away. James also indicates that the corrosion from their riches will eat their flesh like fire, because they will go into the fire of hell for not doing as God commands and sharing what they have. In life the day of slaughter was the time for a party, when freshly killed meat provided a feast, but after death it will be time for the slaughter of the rich themselves.
The poor are not mentioned explicitly but the psalmist gives counsel to those who see others grow rich, which surely means that they are poor in comparison. The poor are not to worry if they see others becoming rich because being rich is not such a good thing. They are honoured in life, having others acting in a subservient way due to their riches, but they lack an understanding of the eternal things. They are no better than beasts. The poor can be content that God will rescue them from death but the rich will just die and be known no more. It seems that being poor is far better than being rich in the greater scheme of things.
We see Jesus meeting a beggar-man, blind Bartimaeus, in Jericho. This man was more than poor, he was destitute, totally dependent on handouts from others. Despite being right at the bottom of society’s pecking order, Bartimaeus was treated with respect by Jesus. Other people who listened to his shouting told him to be quiet but Jesus called him and wanted to speak to him. We say that ‘beggars can’t be choosers’; they can only have what others are prepared to give to them. Jesus allowed Bartimaeus the dignity of choice: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Having heard what the man wanted, Jesus honoured that choice by his action as he healed him.
So where is the last in our list, the thief? We tend to think that thieves are the disreputable members of society, those who live on the edges but James tells the rich that they have been stealing. They are thieves. In Leviticus 19:13 it says: ‘The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.’ Those who looked for work daily depended on receiving their money daily to feed their families. It seems that many didn’t heed this instruction so that both Jeremiah and Malachi mention those who don’t pay the wages of the one who works for them. It was probably such a common practice that such labourers would have been wasting their time asking a human judge to judge in their favour so they turned to God and he heard them.
Rich man, poor man,
Who are we? It could be that some of you are very rich by the world’s standards, with a successful career or business, affording you a big house, expensive car, the best of everything. If your cherry stones or daisy petals have brought you to this situation, you have plenty to rejoice about. Add to your riches knowledge of eternal matters and use what you have in accordance with God’s guidance and you will be blessed indeed.
The very fact that we can meet in this way tells us that we are not poor by worldly standards. I imagine the majority of us fall somewhere in the middle between the very rich and the very poor. We can rejoice that God is with us and will rescue us from death. We can certainly give thanks for the relative wealth we enjoy while so many live on less than a dollar a day. It’s easy to spend time day dreaming about winning the lottery but wanting what we don’t have is not a recipe for contentment but for envy and resentment.
Hopefully none of us will get to the point of being beggars, although I know that it doesn’t take many events in someone’s life to take them from prosperity to penury. We can certainly take our lead from Jesus in the way he treated Bartimaeus. We may meet beggars in our streets. We probably need to think carefully about giving them money, but we ought not to treat them as non-persons. If we give to charities, it makes sense to give to those which help people by listening to what they ask for, rather than by giving them things they don’t need.
Whether relatively rich or relatively poor, we can all make sure we are not thieves by paying our bills, whether personal or business, on time. Perhaps that’s particularly important at this time of recession when cash flow problems can kill a small business. We can also try not to buy items which have been created by virtual slave labourers. Fair Trade items can be more expensive but if we can afford them, we know we are helping families to make a better living.
Perhaps we need to take our lead from Bartimaeus himself who, as soon as he could see Jesus, followed him on the way. At least then we will be travelling in the right direction.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor