Monday, July 11, 2011

The Rich and the Poor

The line between the rich and the poor
C.S. Lewis once wrote, "If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."  We need to keep this in mind as investigate what James has to say about money and faith.

Money is one of those topics that can stop a conversation or create awkward moments.  But Jesus wasn't afraid of talking about wealth, money, and faith, so neither should we.  Here are a few snippets from other parts of the New Testament:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth" (Matthew 6:19)
"Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor" (Luke 18:22)
"...but everything [the disciples] owned was held in common" (Acts 4:32)

Now read James 2:1-7.  You can click here to read it online.

The beginning of this passage emphasizes the glory of Jesus ("do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Christ?" [2:1]).  When we show greater respect to the rich, we are in fact opposing Jesus in all his glory.  The line between the rich and the poor is often very narrow (this picture is an amazing representation of that), but it is one of great importance.  When we care more for the wealthy part of the line, we oppose Christ.  When we care more for the poor, we are in fact living as Jesus himself lived.*

In the Kingdom of God, all these class distinctions should be flattened.  We might add another phrase to Paul's baptismal formula: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer rich or poor; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, emphasized phrase mine).

Question for reflection: How can we, as a church community, show mutual love rather than partiality?

* I would like to make one theological point here.  God's extraordinary care for the poor is characteristic of God's behavior.  God cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten.  In fact, in the great paradoxical nature of God, it is in the powerless that God's power is most vibrantly displayed.  This was shown on Good Friday, when God himself in Christ dies on a cross.  The most powerful being, in fact the Creator of all beings, surrenders power and is powerless.  From that powerlessness, we are made heirs of God's Kingdom on Easter morning.

This is why I believe Christianity is true.  All other worldly religions speak of a powerful god or gods that gather power from followers.  God in Christ is different.  God shows deference to the weak.  God gives life through death.  With these precepts in place, it is clear that no human could have constructed Christianity, for all humans want more power, wealth, and prestige.  Christianity is of God, because only God would dare dream of requiring us to be so vulnerable.

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