“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” – James 1:9-11
I have a confession to make. When I read this verse, my first response is to say in my black little heart, “Yeah James! Go get ’em!” I have issues with rich people. I often catch myself saying things to excuse that away. I say things like, “There are ‘rich’ people and then there are ‘people with money'”. Then a small voice inside points out that this is the exact same reasoning people use to excuse away racist statements. It’s not a true excuse for them, and it’s not true for me either. The truth is that our racist friend, and your’s truly (and you also, in your own way) have a broken way of experiencing relationships. We all have a little Pharasee in us. We all have a way of making ourselves feel better by finding someone or some group to whom we feel morally superior. In a lot of ways its like Elwood P. Dowd says in Harvey, “…that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad, isn’t it?”
This envy that Elwood talks about has its root, like all our sin, in pride. I may not be envious of rich people for what they have. But I am envious of the opportunities that I see wasted. And my pride tells me that if I had their money, I’d do something better with it than buy expensive cars and too-big-houses. In the real core of this is the pride of Lucifer living right down in my black little heart. I want to be God. I want to save everyone. I want to be the hero of the story. I want to set the word to a just, and fair and right way of being. I don’t think this desire to see the world set right is a bad thing. I believe that it is a reflection of God’s will for the world. The Bible teaches that is exactly what will happen. God will re-make the universe and is in the process as we speak. Everything is being perfected. The Spirit is working on us one sin at a time to get us ready for this new Heaven and new Earth. The problem is that I want to decide when and how that perfection takes place. I am trying to put myself in the place of God. This is the core of all of our sin.
So, if James is not just blasting rich people in favor of the poor, then what is he doing? He is pointing to the fact of the regeneration we were just talking about. He is saying, “Take a look at your lot in life. Whatever it may be, be grateful for it. Be grateful but do not cling to the position. God is working to level the playing field as we speak. The sun will wither our pride, and grow the seed of love in the compost of our poverty.”
James was writing to specific people who had some specific issues going on. The folks James was writing to were having issues with giving a favored status to the wealthy while mistreating the poor. But this principal applies to more areas than money. Be grateful when you are in a low position because you will be reminded to look up. Be grateful when you realize you are putting your trust in richness. When you find you are putting your faith in richness of money, morality, spirituality, or anything other than God, be grateful because the sun that is the Holy Spirit has just shown you your flower that He will soon wither away.
It may be hard for us, in our individualistic society to be grateful that the thing we think of as our crowning glory will wither away. But when we look at the place our crowning glory truly comes from, we won’t be able to get rid of our old flower quickly enough. I am growing impatiens this year. When you let impatiens go, and don’t prune them, they get scraggly, and the flowers begin to lack luster. This is what our richness is in the light of God. It is filthy-rag righteousness. Even our prettiest flower is a scraggly, under-wattered impatiens. When you sacrifice the flowers that you already have, when you prune an impatiens, you encourage more growth. It is difficult to make the decision that it is time to prune. The plant spends a few days in shock. It looks worse in the process. But in time the leaves become more attractive, and the flowers that replace the ones you’ve sacrificed will be more beautiful than anything an un-pruned impatiens could produce. This is how we are to be grateful when we realize we are in poverty, and also when the light shines on anything that we might consider our “richness.” All of these things will be withered, pruned, watered and re-made into something greater than any of us could have ever imagined.
When it is time to think of what it will look like when we are pruned and watered, no words speak to this like the words of the Living Water…
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
– Matthew 5:1-12
Below is a scene from a movie called “I Heart Huckabies.” I cannot recommend this movie to everyone because of the content. But when I read L.L. Barkat’s comment, I couldn’t help but remember this scene (don’t worry, the scene is not offensive).