In James 5:1-8, we read a prophecy about rich oppressors. Listening carefully, we note that this is not a condemnation of wealth, but of the misuse of wealth. It echoes back to Leviticus (25:8-24) and the year of Jubilee, a festival for every 50th year; a year that is good news for the poor because debts are forgiven, good news for those who have been or might be cheated because restoration is expected. Absentee landlords are required to return to see how their properties have been managed because they are as responsible as those left in charge.
In James, we read that this has not been the practice, that in fact, restoration is no longer an expectation for the wealthy. The wealthy who are oppressors are those who refuse to see that everything they have, belongs to God and God demands restoration always. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Humanity lives and walks in the garden of the Lord . We own nothing, but are caretakers on the earth. Although inequities may occur, the balance is to be set right at least every 50 years. Injustice, imbalance must not persist; balance must be restored.The death of Jesus is laid in the hands of the powerful who hate him for advocacy of the poor, his challenges to the status quo.
Jesus is an icon of God’s proclamation of the righteous kingdom where the earth is protected, there is food and shelter for all and weapons have been turned into useful tools. In the year of the Lord’s favour, Jesus says, quoting Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21), there will be healing from the consequences of poverty and war. There will be restoration and equity for all. The scripture is fulfilled in the person of Jesus, not in law or prophecy, but in the life of a human being.
How are we, the body of Christ in the world, doing at fulfilling this vision of Jesus? I think this text is a challenge about mission. While many might think that mission is about getting church members, I think this text shows us that the mission of the church is to find co-workers in the task of healing what we have damaged, restoring what has been stolen and renewing right relationships among all people.
It really is not enough to hear Jesus’ words without feeling them. It is not enough to recite creeds written long after Jesus’ time, without promising to follow his mandate. It is not even good enough to say, “Lord, Lord” unless it changes our hearts, opens our minds, and puts action and mercy in our hands. Of all Jesus’ disciples, the early church recognized his mother Mary as the true teacher and so they placed the Magnificat on her lips.
Without this commitment to making the world a better place for everyone, all our songs and prayers, all our liturgical actions are self-indulgent. Our worship must be energizing for mission, reflective for repentance, and challenging to lead us on the Way; that is discipleship. For the good news of Jesus to be our good news, we must dedicate ourselves with love and courage to the earth, to the other creatures, and to all our brothers and sisters, even those we may wish to perceive as enemies. The work is too urgent for us to be distracted. The call of Christ is too compelling for us to turn aside. The day of the lord is here and the accounting is upon us. May Jesus be able to call us his good and faithful servants.