Warning to the Rich
James again begins with a “Come now,” only this time not as if with laughter and a smirk but with all the fire of a prophet filled with righteous indignation: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.” His graphic descriptions of their certain destinies make one shudder: the corrosion of their gold and silver eating their flesh like fire and their self-indulgence fattening their hearts for the slaughter. James minces no words.
But to whom is James speaking? I want to be careful here because we do not want to water-down God’s word just where it renders awful judgments. The kind of rich businessmen James condemns are those who cheat their employees and defraud them of their wages. Apparently, this was a commonplace in Galilee and surrounding areas of that time, and the poor had no defense. We should be grateful that we live in a country where such offenses can meet with a justice system.
But we must be careful that we do not say that just because a wealthy employer cannot begrudge someone his paycheck today means this passage does not apply to wealthy employers. There are other ways of being dishonest; there are plenty of ways of defrauding workers. How much is the business owner making compared to his employees? Does the businessman seek their best interest as well or does he seek his own? Is the purpose of his business solely to make a dollar? I understand that a business must make a profit, but is that all that matters? And don’t say, “No, the customer matters, too.” In that case, “customer” is just another word for “profit.” No. James speaks here of the employee, the worker, the one from the sweat of whose brow the businessman makes his profit. I do not say that the businessman and his employee should make the same pay; it is the businessman who takes the risk and provides the job. Still, there must be a way to see that wages are fairly assigned at the end of the day. I am not ready to say what that is…nor did James.
I sense the answer lies in the businessman’s view of his employees. Are they cattle or persons created in God’s image? Do their families matter? A businessman who employed only one other man once said to me, “I’m not just feeding my family, I’m feeding his as well.” That is a Christian attitude. Businesses run on Christian principles will look after their employees and see that the profit margin is not the only bottom line. People matter. Families matter. So make us proud, Christian businessman!