On the Pursuit of Riches (Thurs. Jan. 26)

The word for today is “riches.”  In our reading of James 4:7-5:9, we hear a shocking condemnation of the rich.  We may think of the rich as prosperous and those who have wealth to be admired.  But for the apostle, it is the opposite.  The rich may think they have a good and happy life now.  But James writes, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you” (James 5:1).

If the Rich Knew Their Fate

The rich may be comfortable now.  But the apostle teaches that if they knew their fate, they would sob and wail.  The rich will be overtaken in “miseries,” a word that comes from the idea of trouble, and affliction (Strong’s #504).  The distresses that the rich should lament, we can add, will come from the severe judgment of God.

Silver, Gold, and Fine Garments Are Corrupted

But why are the rich destined for the miseries of God’s judgment?  The apostle suggests three answers.  First, the apostle says their “silver and gold are corrupted” and their “garments are moth-eaten” (James 5:3).  Wisdom knows that nothing in this world lasts.  Everything passes away.  The money in the rich man’s pocket is easily stolen.  And the garment of the wealthy woman soon worn out.  Therefore, the Lord Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).

Moreover, even if the rich store their wealth safely away, it will soon be taken away from them.  They will lose all they have accumulated when they die.  Thus in the parable of the Rich Fool, God said to the farmer who built bigger barns to secure his crops, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (Luke 12:20).

Wealth Witnesses Against the Rich

The apostle offers a second reason that the rich should cry over their condition.  He says that the corrosion of riches will “eat your flesh like fire.”  The apostle says that this corrosion will “witness against you.”  This denunciation reminds us of the Parable of the Last Judgment where those who have neglected their neighbor in his need are sent to “the eternal fire.”  The treasure that the rich have stored up is a witness to the fact they have kept what they should have shared with the needy for themselves (Matthew 25:41).

The Rich Oppress the Poor

A final reason for the condemnation is that the apostle associates riches with the oppression of the poor.  James charges that the rich have defrauded their employees.  They have also “condemned” the just,” the righteous (Janes 5:6).  That is, they have taken the innocent to court and brought charges against them to condemn them.

Moreover, the apostle declares that the wealthy have even “murdered the just,” the innocent. (James 5:6).  The rich get away with fraud and even murder of the righteous because they can afford lawyers in court.  But the apostle says that the “just do not resist” that is, they are defenseless. (James 5:6).

In summary, while the poor, innocent, and righteous have suffered in neglect and oppression, the rich have lived lives of callous luxury.  Like the rich man in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, they have paid no heed whatsoever to the poor and suffering at their doorstep.  The wealthy do not realize it, but they are growing fat and lazy like pigs fed for the slaughter (Luke 5:5).

For Reflection

The wisdom of James may seem to be harsh and unfair, but it is of the same mind as Jesus who said,  “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation (Luke 6:24). And again. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23).

St. Theophan the Recluse Against the Things of This World

But we might take this wisdom as a warning against the pursuit of wealth.  Silver and gold, fine clothes and sumptuous meals are the things of this world.  We have been baptized into something better than these passing trivialities.  St. Theophan the Recluse said, “The Savior Himself all of His life did not have a place to lay His head, and He finished his life on the cross — why should his followers have a better lot? The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of preparedness to suffer and bear good-naturedly all that is sorrowful.”  Then St. Theophon speaks of the things riches can buy, “Comfort, arro­gance, splendor, and ease.”  These, the saint says, are all “foreign to the Spirit of Christ.”  “Its path lies in the fruitless, dreary desert.  The model is the forty-year wandering of the Israelites in the desert.”

The saint asks, “Who follows this path?  Ev­eryone who sees Canaan beyond the desert, boiling over with milk and honey. During his wandering he too receives manna, however not from the earth, but from heav­en; not bodily, but spiritually. All the glory is within.” (St. Theophan the Recluse. Thoughts for Each Day of the Year…)



About Fr. Basil

Now retired, the Very Rev. Archpriest Basil Ross Aden has served as a parish priest, parish pastor, diocesan mission director, writer, and college teacher of New Testament and Religious Studies. He has a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Chicago and has published daily devotional and stewardship materials as well as a college textbook on Religious Studies. He also has published papers and/or lectured on the Orthodox perspective on Luther and the Reformation. religious freedom, current issues of religion and society, and St. John Chrysostom. He is married to Sandra and has two sons and three grandchildren. He is still active as a priest as well as a writer of articles and materials on Orthodoxy and topics of faith and life today.

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