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James 5:1-6

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.


What a severe passage.

In New Testament times, the rich were idolized and envied. Just like today. We know the song, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love,” but we easily assume it can buy so much else: freedom and security and power and pleasure. Who wouldn’t want to be rich?

But this passage flips it all on its head. “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.” The rich are called to account. Three behaviours stand out. They call us to take stock for ourselves, regardless of our own degree of wealth.

Waste. Excessive hoarding has led to waste. Riches were often tallied in tangible commodities like grain, oil, and clothing, together with gold and silver. The rich stockpiled all of these. In fact, they had hoarded so much, for so long, that the grain and oil had simply rotted, and the clothing had become infested with moths. Precious metals, likewise, had corroded. The riches that were grasped so selfishly had deteriorated and diminished. Wealth that could have been used generously had gone to waste.

(What about us? Do we cling to resources for ourselves, hoarding more than we need? Do we allow the opportunity for generosity to go to waste?)

Injustice. Some of the wealth in James’ day resulted from workmen being cheated of their wages. They’d harvested the fields and brought in the grain, labouring long and hard, producing wealth for their employers, but receiving no pay themselves. Such injustice cries out, both then and now. God himself hears. Woe to those who grasp riches at the expense of others.

(What about us? For employers, the charge is straightforward: be fair, timely, and just in paying wages. For others, are the products we purchase produced on the backs of workers who are unfairly treated? I need to consider – how about you?)

Self-indulgence. The word speaks for itself. The rich spent their resources on their own leisure and ease and pleasure. They were self-focused in their consumption. Ominously, they were fattening themselves like cattle heading to the slaughterhouse.

(What about us? Do we use our resources, whether much or few, for ourselves alone? Do we respond to the needs of the needy? Do we look around?)


Woe to the rich who look only to themselves. Woe to us if we follow their example.


O Lord, thank you for the rich resources you put in my hands. I choose to be content. Give me eyes to see the opportunities that come with all you have given. Wean me from self-indulgence. Strengthen in me a commitment to pursue justice and generosity. For Jesus’ name’s sake.


Reflect: Does this passage call you to any change in your own handling of money? If so, how will you respond?


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