1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 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.
4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.
You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
James has harsh words for these wealthy landowners who are withholding wages from their workers. Families who live day to day are going without food so that these rich farmers can have the most sumptuous foods.
As I began to work on this sermon, I was instantly reminded of a prior post on Blood Bananas. This kind of injustice doesn't go away, it keeps coming back in different forms. When will it end? What are we to do about it?
That's the question that keeps coming back to me: there aren't any rich farmers in our congregation withholding wages nor growing obese on the blood money. So what to do with the text? We don't have any employers doing this evil deed. And I don't know that we have any workers who are having their wages withheld in such gross injustice.
But do we know of anyone who is being oppressed like this?
The text says: The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. Do we hear the cries also?
Shane Claiborne writes:
The truth is that there is a lot of noise out there drowning out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. Lots of folks have put their hands over their ears to drown out the suffering. Institutions have distanced themselves from the disturbing cries. And God has a special ear for their groaning, regardless of who else is listening. It is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle. - Pg 128 Irresistible Revolution
The workers of this Scripture text live in poverty because of the overall empire economics: harvesters can only live day to day because of the wages they are paid. The wages are too low for them to save back any for hard times in the future. Poverty is their only option, no matter how hard they work. And there are millions of families around the world that this is also true of as well.
Beth Shulman researched the over 30 million individuals in America alone who are paid low-wage jobs, the result being that they don't have enough money to save for future hard times. They barely have enough to cover their current costs. And if they work more than one job, then they don't have enough time for those who need it. Which creates other problems.
What do we do if we do hear the cries of the underpaid or the paid withheld?
Shane Claiborne has this to say to Christians who ought to hear the cries:
And yet I am convinced that Jesus came not just to prepare us to die but to teach us how to live. Otherwise, much of Jesus’ wisdom would prove quite unnecessary for the afterlife. After all, how hard could it be to love our enemies in heaven? And the kingdom that Jesus speaks so much about is not just something we hope for after we die, but is something we are to incarnate now. - pg 117
Of course, everyone was forewarned that in this kingdom everything is backward and upside down – the last are first and the first are last, the poor are blessed and the mighty are cast from their thrones. And yet people were attracted to it. They were ready for something different from what the empire had to offer. - pg 118
As the old Franciscan slogan goes, “Preach the gospel always. And when necessary, use words.” Or as our seventy-year-old revolutionary Catholic nun, Sister Margaret puts it, “We are trying to shout the gospel with our lives.” Many spiritual seekers have not been able to hear the words of Christians because the lives of Christians have been making so much horrible noise. It can be hard to hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit amid the noise of Christendom. - pg 127
Maybe it is worth Christians asking whether they are contributing to the persecution of harvesters? Do the products we purchase fuel the abuses of low-wage workers? This is the case with the bananas. Remember Kathy Lee & Wal-mart? Children sewing clothes for pennies while others made hundreds of millions of dollars? This report briefly recounts some of the abuses.
Is it time for Christians, in this global economy, to make sure that our purchases don't fuel the cries of the harvesters? In this day and age we can work harder at tracking down where are money goes when we make a purchase. And in this day of innovation, there are many companies working harder to make products justly.
Isn't that something we could do? Out of love?
Or am I too lazy. Or worse, apathetic...