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Jesus Creed

JesusJames*.jpgReversal is one of James’ convictions. He’s looking at and like his brother on this one too. What is reversal?

That the present conditions are unjust; that the conditions are contrary to God’s design; that God will (soon?) step in to reverse things so that things will be put to rights. So that justice will flow through the land. So that the poor will not be oppressed and the oppressors will not oppress.

“The Day is Coming” is the idea. Jesus’ words can be found in Luke 6:20-26, the Lukan Beatitudes where the poor and hungry and grieving are blessed and the rich and opulent and party-spirited are “woed”. James puts it like this:

9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 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.

There is a very noteworthy translation here. What you decide on this one makes all the difference. So I want to add to the NIV above the NASB:

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position and the rich man {is to glory} in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.

And the ESV:

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.

The issue here is simple: Is the “rich man” a brother? The decision makes a difference. If he is a brother (a believing messianist) then the rich man’s “low position” is the grace of repentance and service to the messianic community. If he is not a brother, his “low position” is a euphemism for God’s judgment. How to decide?

We begin with James and we spread out. A few points:

1. James is very tough on the rich in this letter. Just look at 2:1-13 and 5:1-6. If you go on that evidence, the rich man is not a brother and his low position is judgment. It is possible that the wealthy merchants of 4:13-17 are brothers; it is not clear. The clearest evidence in James favors the idea that the rich is not the brother.
2. The grammar needs to be observed: James says “the poor/lowly brother” but does not have “brother” with “the rich man” and it is notable. Perhaps, though, the word “brother” is implied with “rich man [who is also a brother].”
3. James’ language of reversal fits the Magnificat and the language of Jesus and the general disposition of the earliest Christians. There the “rich” is code language for oppressors.

I think the most reasonable view is that “rich” is not a brother. James warns the oppressors. But, James is not condemning riches or the rich so much as the rich oppressors for their oppression.

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