St. James, The Rich and the Poor
I always get a kick out of when people claim that the Bible is so old it is no longer relevant to us today. It reminds me of a
an interview I heard this weekend from Evolutionary Biologists who talked about advances in civilizations but pointed out that people are the same. This constant essentially anchors all other forms of development into something quite ancient—the human race.
For example, have you listened to some of the members of our congressional delegation lately. They call for some strict law regarding the rich and the poor but I am not sure they say anything as intense as what God calls us to as we see in today’s second reading.
If we look carefully, we have to understand that being rich is not a sin, but if we put our riches to be the center of our life then we are living as idolators. In fact, elsewhere St. Paul describes greed as idolatry and remember the worst sin in the Bible is idolatry.
Let us look more closely at these words.
What is James saying?
First, understand every word in the New Testament is written to Christians. Nothing is written to non-Christians except as a tool of Evangelization. So the intended audience of these words is rich Christians. Further, they embraced Christ in theory but nothing in their life has changed and some of their practices are not only wrong, they are hurting others. In fact, in the Old Testament these practices are considered abominations and in Catholic teaching they scream out to Heaven for vengeance. The reason why these people embrace these practices is to build their wealth and security at the expense of the poor.
St. James addresses them for this attitude because he is explaining that what they are doing is not only sinful but will lead to their spiritual and physical demise.
Any time this happens in our Church or for that matter the pursuit of anything but holiness it causes great damage.
I often hear people say how happy they are that the company they applied to is a Christian company. Sometimes that makes me nervous. There are some great Christians who run great companies and there are others that are lost in prosperity doctrine which teaches that the more you believe in God he will reward you materially. That teaching is not Catholic. In fact, I can say the more we seek Christ the more our difficulties become.
What becomes problematic is those who maintain outward practices appearing faithful to God while living a life focused on riches.
Notice specifically what is condemned there withholding wages of another. Paying someone less than what is a just wage. So that you can have more riches. However, in our world we honor the billionaire, we consider him successful and in fact in the material world he is. However, never forget in the Kingdom of God every rich person is responsible for every dollar he or she has. So if you have billions of dollars to your name, when you die you will be held accountable for each and every one.
If you use your money to help others and to lead people out of poverty then you will be rewarded. If you exploit the labor of others so that you can have more than they, you will be punished.
Let us talk about the person who lives at the lowest levels of the economic scale. He or she gets his car towed for because of street cleaning. The person does not have the money to get the car out of the impound yard and daily there is a large fee added to the storage fee and the ticket and fines.
Everyday the person cannot get the car out of the impound yard the more the person cannot afford the growing high fee. Eventually, the impound yard sells the car for expenses. The person is still responsible for fines and fees which alone can be in the thousands.
Does this happen? Yes and it is legal. In fact, it is the law.
The people most subject to this are at the bottom of the economic scale the least able to afford it.
I learned of a man who was a successful founder of the company. Makes quite a bit of money, so much so when someone talked to him about FICA he asked what it was and then realized that is the fee that they take out of his first check every year.
Dorothy Day taught to convert the poor, you must be like them and to convert the rich you must be unlike them. Again, there is nothing wrong with being poor or rich, how you use your riches is the problem.
We do not believe in socialism as Catholics, we believe everyone has the right to private property, however, we also believe we have a duty to share what we have with those who have not.
It is also a great mistake to believe that the poor are by default good and the rich are by default bad. Neither is true.
However, we as catholic have a duty to live as people who are always accountable to our Lord for all we have.
About twenty years ago there was some about the controversy of the USCCB headquarters in Washington, DC. The building is a multi-million dollar construction and when it was being built many Catholics were dead set against it. They felt the USCCB did need headquarters but they did not need a multi-million dollar structure. The reason for the building is to make it clear that the Catholic Bishops have a voice in the US Government as does any other organization. Some would say if we want to say anything to our government we do it one way through our pursuit of holiness.
The next time you hear any member of the our government give an economic statement make sure you square it with our Catholic faith. You might find it may seem controversial but after your research discover the statement is less radical than what we as Catholics teach and many in the media think we believe.