Today I’m finishing up the book of James. It feels like this chapter is divided into three topics or lessons. Verses 1-6 seem to talk about greed, verses 7-11 seem to be focused on endurance and patience, and the last verses seem to be about prayer. Obviously, if these are in the Bible, the writers must have found them all important, but I can’t help but keep focusing on the first section of verses 1-6. Therefore, my focus verse for today is James 5:1, “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.”
I’ve reread this chapter multiple times today. I just think over and over about these first verses and how it’s calling out the rich for greediness. But I think the rich is really metaphorical. I think it’s not so much about money, but it could be an excessive amount of anything — clothes, food, stamps — doesn’t really matter. When you reach the point you want more and more and more of anything you become so attached to it. And when you become that attached to something, certainly misery follows.
This thinking about attachment made me think of Eastern religions and philosophies and their practice of detachment. I had a conversation with a friend about this very idea last week and it has so resonated with me. I see person after person — in fact, I am that person — who has become so attached to stuff. I look in my home at the things that I would be devastated if I lost …. pictures, my grandmother’s carnival glass dishes, my great grandmother’s antique piano, the list could go on and on. Is this not a type of greediness? Not that I want more antique pianos, but I have an incredible attachment to it. Would I — could I — give it up if asked by God? I’ve got to say, while I am not great at this, I am getting better. Stuff just isn’t as important to me as it once was. But there are still a few items God would have to pry out of my hands while I screamed and yelled.
But what about my job….what about people? Do I value my job title or my relationships with friends and family above my relationship with God? If so, is that not an idol? I am reminded of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God and his willingness to do so (Genesis 22). What a crazy story! I’ve always been somewhat horrified by the story of a god that would ask a father to kill his own son as a sacrifice. Of course, God did not allow Abraham to follow through. Isaac was not killed, but the very request makes me shiver. However I’m going to look beyond the literal storyline and see in the story Abraham’s ability to detach from the world.
Is my dependence, my identity, my self worth, so focused solely on Christ that if I lose my job, my husband, my home, my health, my friends, etc., etc., I could continue on?! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God asks us to be apathetic about everything in the world. I think we just have to remember where our true worth lies….and it’s not in stuff. And it’s not in relationships. And it’s not in our jobs. And if all of those things go away tomorrow, we need to be able to get up and continue on.
In fact the bottom line is…..what does my happiness depend on? What does my attitude depend on? What do I depend on? If any part of me is attached to people, jobs, stuff, then I am leaving myself very vulnerable to pain, suffering, disappointment, and misery.
Now, as much as I know this and believe it because I’m writing it, by no means am I doing it. However, I think as Christians we have to recognize that maybe our friends in other religions can teach us a thing or two.