by, Aug 25th 2012 at 01:51 AM (209 Views)
"A Strong Word of Warning...Part II"
As we have seen, James opens the fifth chapter, which is really a continuation of the last paragraph of the fourth chapter, with a condemnation of those who abuse and lust after riches. He is talking to a culture that viewed the rich as largely favored by God, and the ones who were closest to Him. But, as James cries out, they are saving up a treasure which will rot and consume them. It is a warning to those who abuse the things of this world, whose heart is so entangled in it, that it squeezes out all faith and love. The transition in verse seven is quite marked, and calls for patience of the saints in the midst of such a ferocious pursuit of the worlds goods.
The Gospels give us a full picture of this 'negative treasure' in the form of a rich young man who could not let go of his riches to follow Jesus. He was a young man who had it all, and he wanted more, he wanted eternal life, nothing wrong with that. So, he came to the famous Rabbi and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to follow the commandments, to which the young man said that he had done all this. Mark records that when he said this, Jesus had a love for him and Jesus answered him, 'One thing you lack, sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow me.' This only brought a look of sadness on the young man’s face.
You see, he was very rich, filthy rich, stinking rich as they say, and he did not want to depart with any of it. So, he made his road in the other direction, and followed the signposts that let him keep 'what was his'. Mark adds that he was 'grieving' over all this. Then, Jesus said a shocking thing, 'It is very for rich man to be saved. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved.' This was truly a stumper.
You see they thought it was the rich who gave the most money, the most gorgeous gifts to the temple, the most sacrifices and could afford everything that made for great tithes and sumptuous giving. But, that is not what it is all about. Jesus was teaching them that it is not the giving so much as where your heart is, and what motivates you to give as you do. Do you see the connection between the rich young ruler and what James is talking about?
James is condemning what begins with an attitude, an attitude which is shown in that of the Rich Young ruler, let's call him a prince, and is endemic of the whole Jewish attitude towards what God wanted. The reponse of Peter and the others just mirrors this prevailing viewpoint: 'They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?'. Jesus had just demolished a long held view, and now the disciples could only think, 'If the rich cannot be saved, where does that leave the poor?' Money talked in their time, and to some it shouted the loudest prayers for God to hear, provided you were not one of the outcasts or sinful ones.
Jesus makes the point that with God all things are possible, for only by God can anyone be saved. But all any of them could think of was 'we have left all to follow you, what will become of us.' The whole point is that the disciples were zeroed in on the 'power of money', and missing the whole point of salvation. Jesus corrected that, and pointed out that God hold that privilege to save anyone. Jesus wanted the Rich man to make a treasure in heaven for himself, but all the Rich man could see was how much he had and how impossible it was for him to give up all his wealth.
Later, Jesus told a parable about creating a treasure in heaven. Jesus was speaking to His disciples with some Pharisees who were listening to what was being taught. Luke is the only one who records this particular parable in chapter sixteen verses one through eighteen, though the parable proper ends at verse thirteen. But, the way that Luke structures the setting, the first parable leads to an exchange with the Pharisees which in turn leads to a second parable, Lazarus and the rich man. The whole chapter is instructive of the Pharisees attitude to money, Jesus, and to the Old Testament scriptures that they had.
The larger setting is one in which Jesus is Journeying to Jerusalem to die. It starts in chapter nine and goes on through chapter nineteen with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The immediate setting extends back through chapter fifteen where, at the beginning of the chapter, tax collectors and other sinners are pressing around Jesus to hear Him teach; the Pharisees, as usual, are grumbling about all the riff raff that assembles around Jesus. In this chapter Jesus tells several parables of salvation culminating with the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal was one who squandered what was his, here at the beginning of chapter sixteen Jesus tells a parable about one who squander money that is not his.
Jesus turns from the story of a son who squandered his inheritance and now tells a story about one who stole from his master, and the master found out about it. So, he called the man, who was his steward of finances, into his office to give him, the Owner and master, a full accounting of his finances. This scared the steward because he knew his master might find out and throw him out. Then, he would have to actually work for a living. He thought, '‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.’
So, he called in his master's debtors, people who owed his master money, gave them their account sheets, and told them to write in lower numbers than what they really owed. This was clearly wrong, but Jesus did not go into a speech about dishonesty, he talked about wisdom, '8 And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. 9 And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.' This, Jesus was saying, is how you use money, to make eternal friends with eternal dwellings.
Jesus then drives the point home by pointing out that if one is unfaithful with just a little, he will be so with much more. One cannot serve two masters, God does not want a divided heart. You must be faithful now, while you have the chance. It is not how much we have, but how we use what we have. This was how to use money, but the Pharisees, who loved money, just laughed and jeered at Jesus. He turned and commented to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.' God know the thoughts and intents of the heart, and weighs them according to His view.
Jesus, now, in verses sixteen through eighteen, makes what appears to be an off the cuff remark totally unrelated to what has been going on so far in this narrative. However, I feel it is a crucial 'pivot' to facing squarely the predicament of the Pharisees, what they truly face in life whether they see it coming or not. Notice, that phrase 'Law and Prophets' in verse sixteen and the repetition of the parallel 'Moses and the Prophets' in verses twenty-nine and thirty-one, they signify a parallel between Jesus comments and the meaning of the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, as we know it.
Jesus makes the transition by pointing out that the Law and the Prophets were read until John came, they were known throughout the land leading up to John the Baptist and with his coming the kingdom of God has been sought by all men of many kinds, and they have sought it with all their means. The last phrase 'It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away....' simply points out that the whole law must be fulfilled, it cannot fail. This is a dig at the Pharisees and how their traditions have twisted scripture. This is seen by Jesus' last comment on marriage.
'Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.' This teaching flew in the face of what the Pharisees and scribes taught; they had many ways and means for a man to write a simple certificate of divorce and hand it to the woman. Indeed, this was common practice among the Herods, who divorced and passed around wives like trading cards. It was this that John the Baptist condemned Herod for, and that ultimately cost him his head on a silver platter.
So, Jesus simply pointed out that their attitudes on scripture, like their attitude about money, was so very wrong. It was then that Jesus told them the parable about Lazarus, a poor man with sores who was set every day at the gate of a house of a very wealthy man. This wealthy man, who had much money and fine garments, gave lavish meals every day to which he invited all the rich, powerful, and lovely people. It was a true 'A listers' affair that went on for every day of the year. But, Lazarus was never even given table scraps to enjoy, they went to the dogs. The dogs, having been well fed, then would lick the sores of poor Lazarus every day.
In time, like the Rich Fool, he died and woke up in a fiery torment, from which he could see Lazarus enjoying rest lying against Abrahams' chest. There might be a parallel here, since he was used to seeing Lazarus being licked by the dogs while they were both living. So, he asks for water, to which Abraham says it is impossible to get; and that Lazarus is now getting the good things that he missed out on in life. I am wondering if the listeners had the parable of the unjust steward in the back of their minds; the rich man did not use his wealth wisely as that thieving steward did.
So, twice the rich man begs Abraham to send someone, maybe himself, back to warn his brothers about this place. Twice, Abraham denies it saying they have 'Moses and the Prophets' to warn them. The rich man tries to argue that they will not listen to scripture, but will listen to one who comes back from the dead, and Abraham ends it by stating that if they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not listen even if one should come back from the dead. This all rings about what will happen with Jesus, and the Pharisees after His resurrection. It is a statement condemning the Pharisees misuse of riches and their twisting, even ignoring, what all Moses and the Prophets really had to say.
Such were the hard-hearted, stiff necked people Jesus tried to teach, and such were the same that James was facing in trying to shepherd a growing church; a struggling community of believers. James makes the connection with a further condemnation: '4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.'
The picture in verse four is of the day laborers who take daily jobs to harvest the various crops that come to fruition. Jesus told a stunning parable about this, about the owner who, at various times of the day, went to the market and hired people to pick his crop. These were the poorest workers around, and God gave a special rule to be sure that they could get the essentials, they were to be payed daily; their wages were not to be with held from them. They needed them to buy food so they could work well the next day. In Leviticus 19:13 God commanded 'You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.' Mercy to all within their grasp was commanded.