James 5: 1 – 3
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.
I know of some scholars who object strongly to the use of headings in Bibles, their view being that the heading will unduly influence the reader’s understanding of the passage. Many years ago the sports editor of The Scotsman was a dyed in the wool Hearts fan and one New Year’s Day they got royally gubbed by Hibs 7 goals to 1. The next morning though, he excursed his power as editor and the headline read ‘Hearts in Eight Goal Thriller#. In my NIV Bible this passage from James is headed “Warning to rich oppressors” which is an excellent summation; it shows that James has a specific target in mind. Like so often it is not the rich he is aiming at but those who love material wealth to such an extent they exploit their fellow human beings to gain more.
Among my fellow students all those years ago in Aberdeen Divinity School was a chap who in his misspent youth (his phrase) had gained a PhD in Chemistry. Verse 3 above annoyed him and after a preacher had used it one day in the Chapter Service he sounded off over lunch about how gold and silver being elements cannot rust or corrode. He was of course absolutely correct in scientific terms but James was writing theology, not science, as we gently pointed out to him.
James’ point is that what you may consider gold and silver as symbols of your wealth are not true treasures, they will fade and decay. He makes the point all the stronger in the previous verse. What is the source of wealth in many cases it is the fruits of the field grapes or grain, but if these are stored instead of being used to feed all they will rot or be eaten by pests. Fine clothes were a very common way of displaying ostentatious wealth and if you have far more than you need it hangs in wardrobes and becomes moth fodder.
James’ point reflects Jesus’ comment that it does no good to pile up wealth at the cost of what is important in this world and the next.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, we thank you that we are comfortable, we have secure homes and enough to eat, we pray for those for whom that is not the case. Help us to help them, not gaining more and more possessions for ourselves but in sharing the great bounty you have bestowed upon your creation.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,