MOTHS AND MOWERS By A. Prentice Part One of Two Scripture references are to the New International Version. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. James 5: 1-6 WITH THE WORLD in a worry over economic problems, personal and sovereign debt, much of the rising anger has been directed at ‘the rich’, the so-called ‘one per cent’. This relatively small upper crust of the ultra-prosperous has become the pop- ular symbol of capitalism at its worst. In Britain, the Conservative government – a party whose policies are traditionally on the side of Business – have borrowed public anger and pressured well-paid bankers to renounce their lavish year-end bonuses. The warning words of the Apostle James (quoted at the head of this article) to this privileged class are often invoked by exponents of Scripture to describe the retribution awaiting those who make unjust profits by exploiting those beneath them. Peering Into The Future This passage in James has been interpreted by many Bible commentators as a prediction of a world-scale rebellion of poor against rich, Labour against Capital. So far, this extreme interpretation is not borne out by the facts, though it has found expres- sion in national or sub-national events, such as, for example, the French Revolution; the uprising of workers against aristocratic landholders in Manchester (‘Peterloo’), 1819; or the rural workers’ ‘Bloody Sunday’ riot in Vancouver, 1938, during the Depression. However, the sentiment of the poor against the rich, the revolutionary against the aristocrat, the anarchist against the state, is sufficiently ubiquitous as to be unremarkable. The nature of such a conflict – simmering or exploding – between the high and low classes is a throbbing constant of history, and on its face the James passage signals nothing new. Besides, one must always take into account the tendentious habit of interpreting topical events to prove a pet theory. Even the best minds can fall into this trap. Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the current prognostications regarding the national economy, which vary widely from hopeful to dire over the weekly cycle. Of all the faculties with which the human intellect is blessed, it seems that hindsight is more accurate than foresight. Beginning in the twentieth century, economic upheavals tended to be international in scale, due to the co-ordination of credit and financial structures across the industrialised world. The various depressions and recessions of 1907, 1929, 2008, and others before and in between, demonstrate this. One might therefore expect that the ultimate clash of Labour against Capital – if there is to be one – would have occurred by now, especially considering the far-reaching effects of two World Wars during the first half of the last century. If a world-beating crash is envisaged by the James passage, it evidently lies in the future. This is an important consideration, for ‘end-of-time’ biblical prophecies are often couched in apocalyptic language, and small-scale or regional disturbances do not fit the bill. Perhaps the James passage should be interpreted in some other way? It is worth noting that the Apostle situates his own predic- tion within the context of the religious community. We will examine the passage and explore the possibilities. The Book Of James Accepted relatively late into the Canon, due to the disputed identity of its author and its literary style, this epistle was appar- ently written between 40 and and the early 60s A.D. It is directed to ‘the twelve tribes scattered among the nations’ (v. 1). From this one may reasonably conclude that the writer’s intended audience was made up of Christian Jews. Depending on the date assigned to this letter, the brethren to whom it was addressed may have met in synagogues, if the Greek word synagoge, translated as ‘meeting’ in 2: 2, is assigned weight, a possibility that might explain the diversity of classes within these congregations, drawn from the surrounding Jewish population. Such a practise is common today: a newly-formed Christian church without a building in which to assemble may rent a theatre or civic hall until it can construct its own quarters. But compare 2: 2 with 5: 14, where the usual Greek word for ‘church’ (ecclesia) is used. There evidently was a divide between the rich among them and those who were poor. Some of the latter group were presum- ably of the ‘want-to-be-rich’, and evinced a tendency to kowtow to the celebrity in their midst: James 1: 9-11 9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride [joy, Ed.] in his high position [as unmerited favour, Ed.]. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low [abased] position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. James 2: 1-6 1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor [by pandering to the rich, Ed.]. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? [A thing forbidden to Christians; 1 Corinthians 6: 1-6, Ed.] Covetousness and envy of wealth were not the only problems which confronted these churches. James castigates their failure to care for the orphans and widows among them (1: 27); their professing faith, but not living it (2: 14-17); their calumny and gossiping (3: 3-10); and their being ambitious (3: 13-16), argumentative (4: 1, 2), vindictive (4: 11, 12), and presumptuous (4: 13-17). Continues next page _______ 2012
MOTHS AND MOWERS By A. Prentice Part One of Two Scripture references are to the New International Version. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the har- vesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have con- demned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. James 5: 1-6 WITH THE WORLD in a worry over economic problems, personal and sovereign debt, much of the rising anger has been directed at ‘the rich’, the so-called ‘one per cent’. This relat- ively small upper crust of the ultra-prosperous has become the popular symbol of capitalism at its worst. In Britain, the Conservative government – a party whose policies are tradi- tionally on the side of Business – have borrowed public anger and pressured well-paid bankers to renounce their lavish year- end bonuses. The warning words of the Apostle James (quoted at the head of this article) to this privileged class are often in- voked by exponents of Scripture to describe the retribution awaiting those who make unjust profits by exploiting those be- neath them. Peering Into The Future This passage in James has been interpreted by many Bible commentators as a prediction of a world-scale rebellion of poor against rich, Labour against Capital. So far, this extreme interpretation is not borne out by the facts, though it has found expression in national or sub-national events, such as, for ex- ample, the French Revolution; the uprising of workers against aristocratic landholders in Manchester (‘Peterloo’), 1819; or the rural workers’ ‘Bloody Sunday’ riot in Vancouver, 1938, during the Depression. However, the sentiment of the poor against the rich, the revolu- tionary against the aristocrat, the anarchist against the state, is sufficiently ubiquitous as to be unremarkable. The nature of such a conflict – simmering or exploding – between the high and low classes is a throbbing constant of history, and on its face the James passage signals nothing new. Besides, one must always take into account the tendentious habit of interpreting topical events to prove a pet theory. Even the best minds can fall into this trap. Nowhere is this trend more evident than in the current prognostications regarding the national economy, which vary widely from hopeful to dire over the weekly cycle. Of all the faculties with which the human intellect is blessed, it seems that hindsight is more accurate than foresight. Beginning in the twentieth century, economic upheavals ten- ded to be international in scale, due to the co-ordination of credit and financial structures across the industrialised world. The various depressions and recessions of 1907, 1929, 2008, and others before and in between, demonstrate this. One might therefore expect that the ultimate clash of Labour against Capital – if there is to be one – would have occurred by now, especially considering the far-reaching effects of two World Wars during the first half of the last century. If a world-beating crash is envisaged by the James passage, it evidently lies in the future. This is an important consideration, for ‘end-of-time’ biblical prophecies are often couched in apo- calyptic language, and small-scale or regional disturbances do not fit the bill. Perhaps the James passage should be interpreted in some other way? It is worth noting that the Apostle situates his own pre- diction within the context of the religious community. We will examine the passage and explore the possibilities. The Book Of James Accepted relatively late into the Canon, due to the disputed identity of its author and its literary style, this epistle was ap- parently written between 40 and and the early 60s A.D. It is directed to ‘the twelve tribes scattered among the nations’ (v. 1). From this one may reasonably conclude that the writer’s in- tended audience was made up of Christian Jews. Depending on the date assigned to this letter, the brethren to whom it was addressed may have met in synagogues, if the Greek word synagoge, translated as ‘meeting’ in 2: 2, is as- signed weight, a possibility that might explain the diversity of classes within these congregations, drawn from the surround- ing Jewish population. Such a practise is common today: a newly-formed Christian church without a building in which to assemble may rent a theatre or civic hall until it can construct its own quarters. But compare 2: 2 with 5: 14, where the usual Greek word for ‘church’ (ecclesia) is used. There evidently was a divide between the rich among them and those who were poor. Some of the latter group were presum- ably of the ‘want-to-be-rich’, and evinced a tendency to kow- tow to the celebrity in their midst: James 1: 9-11 9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride [joy, Ed.] in his high position [as un- merited favour, Ed.]. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low [abased] position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. James 2: 1-6 1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wear- ing fine clothes and say ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor [by pandering to the rich, Ed.]. Is it not the rich who are ex- ploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? [A thing forbidden to Christians; 1 Corinthians 6: 1-6, Ed.] Covetousness and envy of wealth were not the only problems which confronted these churches. James cas- tigates their failure to care for the orphans and widows among them (1: 27); their professing faith, but not liv- ing it (2: 14-17); their calumny and gossiping (3: 3-10); and their being ambitious (3: 13-16), argumentative (4: 1, 2), vindictive (4: 11, 12), and presumptuous (4: 13- 17). Continues next page _______ 2012