Juan Marrero put a couple of things together for me last week. He did it when the Kingdombuilders bowed their diverse heads for prayer and he started reading from James 5. Let me try to bomb into your day with the same aggression:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
It may be a lost cause to say it, but, “Listen you rich people!” Before Juan started reading, I had been flabbergasted all week over Oxfam’s report that the annual income of the richest 100 people in the world could end extreme poverty THE WORLD OVER four times. Here’s the claim: “The richest one per cent has increased its income by 60 per cent in the last 20 years with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process. Oxfam warned that extreme wealth and income is not only unethical it is also economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive. Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International, said: ‘We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many – too often the reverse is true.’“ James would add, “You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”
Oxfam got their report out in advance of the World Economic Forum held in Davos (in Switzerland, of course, the first tax haven). The WEF is a non-governmental group devoted to making things better, they say. One look at their video, at the people attending, and at the place they are meeting shows just how far away they are from Juan Marrero in North Philly [link]. It is fascinating to get a peek at how the super-rich and their institutions behave [link]. They certainly don’t look like they will be slaughtered any time soon, but they do look well fattened.
I appreciated how Juan Marerro was just not having it. He’s not too susceptible to promises from the rich who put themselves in charge of making things better. I suppose the Comcast building, the local castle that houses a corporation fat from recently gobbling up NBC, casts a shadow that reaches clear into Juan’s Fairhill neighborhood. That’s where he is pastor of Christ Centered Church and executive director of Crossroads Community Center. He says he is dealing with people “Who have nothing.” The church he leads opened on Christmas Day 2011 and by last summer had about 80 people involved, about half of whom are ex-offenders and their families. It bears saying that ex-offender bankers who have not been prosecuted were likely dining in Davos. Ex-offenders in North Philly can’t get a job because they are perpetually tracked as ex-cons, even though they have served their time. There are actually laws that require employers to screen for people who have been in jail [link]. He’s upset that the supposedly “fair” AVI assessment will drive his people out of their homes because landlords will pass along the tax increase, which will be substantial in his neighborhood.
Marerro was not having it like James was not having it. As usual, the most authentic Christianity can be found among those who have nothing. At least they can read James and feel it. I suspect many of the Christians in the United States have no idea what to do with James 5. They might know better how to deal with the World Economic Forum. More likely than doing anything with James 5 or dealing with the WEF, they are just zoned out, trying to ignore the poor who live in the shadow of their local corporate giant, or trying to ignore the rich as they continue to gobble up resources in any way possible. Check out the PBS piece “Park Avenue: Money, Power & the American Dream and it will help you to stay wake.
You can tell I am upset. I’m trying to blame it on Juan, but I was primed by the time I saw him. He just had the audacity to speak the truth. Yet he did not neglect to aggressively read the next few lines of James which aren’t usually connected to the writer’s aggressive prophecy against the rich. James cautions his people to “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”
The Lord’s coming is near, now and later. Getting righteously angry is important in a world in which the richest people and their institutions charge themselves with taking care of the poor while not injuring their economies. They are failing. But their godless pursuits are doomed to failure, no matter how hard they use Comcast to convince us they are doing great. Whether we have nothing, or we just don’t know what to do, if we keep planting truth in love, we can be assured that the Lord will bring about the harvest.
OK. I am going to do that. But I am patiently impatient. I trust the Lord to be near, but I think keeping some fire burning, and some anger reserved, is part of that. Today and all during Lent, at least, I intend to look at my city, region and world with blinders off, as much as possible, and try to see what the Lord wants to do now. The corrosion is testifying and eating flesh like fire.