Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Nm 11:25-29
Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14
2) Jas 5:1-6
Gospel: Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Our second reading today is from a Letter by St. James — the James sometimes referred to as the “brother of the Lord” in New Testament writings — and it is on my short list of very difficult Scripture passages.
The problem is not with any obscurity in the text. Quite the contrary. To paraphrase, James tells wealthy people they are on a collision course with God’s justice. The wealthy James has in view are living in luxury made possible by exploiting poor workers. God is not going to let this injustice escape a final reckoning.
At the Last Judgment, the rich people’s investment portfolios (I’m updating James’ language) and closets of fine clothes will be entered as evidence against them. It would be hard to find a simpler, plainer message than this anywhere in the Bible.
The difficulty lies in determining what this message means for me.
Now, I have no doubt that it does address me. The church included James’ letter in the New Testament canon because it has a continuing relevance for Christians, not for its historical interest.
And I am wealthy — not in the sense of belonging to the top economic tier but in being above the tier where a person has to choose between buying groceries or filling a prescription.
And, while I have not failed to pay field hands myself, injustices in employment are not a problem I can disown. Everywhere in my house, items resonate to James’ words.
The T-shirts in my dresser drawer: What were the factory conditions of the (possibly very young) women who made them? The bag of shrimp in the freezer: How free were the (probably very young) men who netted them? The strawberries on the kitchen counter, the gym shoes on the laundry room floor, the coffee in the cup I’m holding?
Most likely, if there weren’t injustices in the production of these things, I couldn’t afford some of them.
But these situations are far beyond my control.
I don’t think God’s purpose in bringing me James’ message is to make me feel bad. But it is not easy to discover what God’s purpose here is. He must have some concrete response in mind.
So at this moment, I’m searching online to learn more about these problems, and then I’m going to talk about them with my wife.
Is there, perhaps, a step that you could take?
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.