Tag Archives: Martyr

Give and Live

Give and Live (CaD James 5) Wayfarer

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
James 5:1 (NIV)

The times in which James wrote his letter to scattered believers was tumultuous. Jesus railed against the aristocrat Pharisees and religious leaders who lived in luxury while they exploited the poor. He cleared out the temple moneychangers who were getting themselves and the priests rich by charging poor pilgrims exorbitant exchange rates. Jesus’ criticism and the favor it gained him among the poor and marginalized was what got him crucified. Jesus wasn’t crucified for religious reasons. He was crucified because He threatened the religious racket’s cash cow, and stirred up resentment that already ran deep.

Thirty years later, the situation has not changed. It’s only gotten worse. James was the leader of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. He was well respected as he tried to manage the political powder keg between the Jewish religious leaders, local ruler Herod Agrippa II, and Rome. The gap between rich and poor continued to grow further and further apart. The aristocratic priests lived in spacious homes in the city’s upper city while the poor lived downwind of the local sewers. Exorbitant taxes pushed poor farmers out of business and wealthy landowners took over everything. The rich sided with the Romans in an effort to keep stability. This gave the poor more reason to hate them. Tensions were high, and about to spill over.

Reading today’s chapter with this context, it’s easy for me to feel James’ situation. The Jesus Movement exploded in part because it addressed the disparity of members. The wealthy generously gave. The poor and marginalized were welcome at the table with the rich and noble. James calls out the wealthy who are exploiting the poor. He calls on poor believers to persevere in chaotic, desperate circumstances. His instructions are about maintaining simple, daily ritual: Keep praying, keep praising, keep healthy, and stay in community with other believers. Pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the current chaotic times are a cakewalk compared to what it would have been like to be a poor day laborer in Jerusalem back in James’ day. History is always good for providing me with much needed context. At the same time, the same general principles and forces are at work today as they were then. Generosity, equality, deference and humility are still the tangible ways that the love of Christ is to flow through me to others. As a follower of Jesus, I’m to live out my faith daily in simple rituals that channel those same values. I’m called to view my current earthly circumstances in the eternal perspective of the Great Story.

James’ warnings in today’s chapter were incredibly prescient. The rich in Jerusalem continued to hoard more and more wealth. The rich priests withheld tithes from poor priests, forcing them into day labor. There were 18,000 day laborers who worked to finish construction work on the temple who didn’t get paid. James was condemned by the religious leaders and stoned to death. In 66 AD a revolt broke out. Priests and the Roman Garrison on the Temple mount were massacred. The four-year revolt against Rome would end in 70 AD when the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed it along with the temple.

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

In Sight of the Journey’s End

homestretchI have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)

For Paul, who languished in a Roman dungeon and put the finishing touches on his letter to Timothy, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall. Emporer Nero was a couple of years into his rather successful pogrom to blame followers of Jesus for the Great Fire of Rome and exterminate as many of them as he could as gruesomly as he could. There would be no pardon for Paul this time.

For roughly thirty years Paul, who had begun as a persecutor of Jesus followers himself, had been arguably the greatest champion of Jesus’ message. The twelve disciples, Jesus’ twelve closest followers, initially stuck close to home and spent much of their time sharing Jesus’ message with their fellow Jews. It was Paul who became the unlikely game changer by focusing his efforts on carrying Jesus’ message of salvation with non-Jewish Gentiles far away from Jerusalem. The road had not been easy. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth, Paul briefly related just how harrowing his own road had been:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

In today’s chapter, we hear a very different tone. Paul knows that he is in the homestretch of his Earthly journey. He can see the finish line. He is not giving into despair. In fact, his tone is confident. He is not giving up and limping home. In fact, he is still dishing out orders for Timothy to bring his scrolls and parchments so he can continue to work until the end. But, Paul is reflective. He looks back at his life and confidently makes three strong statements:

I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith.

No one knows, for the most part, exactly when their own earthly journey will end. Lord willing, I am still only at the half-way point of my own journey (even though I realize this morning that I have followed Jesus about as long as Paul had when he was martyred). It will take me twice as long to accomplish less than a ten thousandth of what Paul did. A humbling thought.

Nevertheless, today I am encouraged and motivated by Paul’s words. I have a long way to go, but when that day comes that I sense the finish line approaching I hope that my heart will confidently whisper Paul’s words to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.