Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jesus vs. Pluto (James 2:1-7)

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? (James 2:1-7, New Revised Standard Version).

Our society and culture are almost exclusively Olympian. That means devotion to the six gods of Olympianity is quite conventional: almost everyone does it almost all of the time. It also means that our society rewards people who are Olympian and punishes those who aren’t.

One of these six gods is Pluto, the god of money. Because our society worships Pluto, we measure the importance of a person in terms of money. Rich people are important in our world while poor people are marginal.

According to Pluto, it is right to favor a rich person. Such a person is important and also virtuous: smart, hard-working, powerful, and therefore blessed by him and worthy of our respect.

According to Pluto, it is also right to dishonor a poor person. Such a person is unimportant but also obviously a sinner: stupid, lazy, powerless, and therefore cursed by him and worthy of our contempt.

In today’s passage from the New Testament, James shows us just how unconventional he is. He mocks us for calling ourselves Christians while still acting like worshipers of Pluto. He points out that we act in a conventional Olympian way when we favor rich people and treat poor people with contempt. When we do so, he says we become judges with evil thoughts.

James points out that unconventional Jesus, in contrast with conventional Pluto, favors the poor and marginal in our society. Jesus makes people who are poor in wealth become rich in what matters: participation in his kingdom of truth, freedom, love, and vitality.

Pluto promises us that wealth will provide us with all the security, happiness, importance, and meaning we seek in life. He also justifies every means we might use to get it and keep it: lies, indifference toward others, even destruction and death.

James calls our attention to one last irony. He asks us why we favor the rich when it is the rich, as powerful people using every means necessary to increase their wealth, who oppress us? And who, by doing so, bring disgrace upon the name of Jesus.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.