Follow by Email

Friday, November 11, 2011

On James and wrongdoing in this life

            Last week, I had an afternoon in which I volunteered to cover a position knowing that, in all likelihood, I would be doing nothing.  The next Sunday at church, I knew that we would be beginning to look at the book of James.  Therefore, to begin studying it, I brought with me a commentary that I have found useful in the past, the IVP Bible Background Commentary—New Testament, edited by Keener.  As the name implies, it specializes in explaining the background of the writing, which is important in that that time and place is so different than the one we live in.  Specifically to this writing, we in North America live in participatory democracies; James and the believers of Jewish ancestry which were believers in Jesus lived in a dictatorship in which what they believed was technically illegal.  The government didn’t trust them because the Jews had rebelled against the government before, and would again soon after James finished this writing.  The Jewish religious establishment didn’t trust them because, in accepting Jesus as their Savior, they had effectively rejected their leadership.  Further, the Saducees, who had the ear of the Roman Empire, for that same reason, were not respected by the average Jew.  In Jerusalem, James, by the time he wrote this book, had the respect not just of the believers in the city, but also among average Jews because he was known to care for the poor and was willing to speak out against the abuses of the wealthy.

            The Jewish Law called for treating others fairly, but Roman Law had in it that the upper status persons could take legal action against those of lower statuses, but those of lower status could not take legal action of someone of higher status.  Those of higher status had come to a point of taking advantage of the poor, knowing that they would not be punished.  The Zealots, the Jewish political revolutionary group, was more and more being seen as being reasonable in calling for revolt against Rome and the rich.  Some rich were Romans, but among those who were Jewish, it was still seen as reasonable, as such persons, even in the time of Jesus, were seen as traitors to their people.  James speaks to the feeling that was coming into the believers in Jesus that the Zealots were right to urge revolt.

            In our day and age, James is oftentimes seen as a book somewhat of a New Testament likeness to Proverbs.  In the context above, the way James goes from one thought to the next, and connects back to a thought after a chapter or more makes sense, and seems less disjointed.  The ultimate conclusion James makes is that it is right to speak up against wrongdoing, but condemns being involved in armed revolt against the government.  Given the history of the U.S., that this country gained its independence by armed revolt from a country treating us at the time as a source of raw materials, a place to give land to political favorites, and a place to send criminals, the correct cultural context is not going to be popular. Today, the leaders of too many churches (in this case used in the traditional sense of the term) wish to promote, albeit between the lines usually and overtly in some instances, economic prosperity as a key to a church’s plans. 

            How do I reasonably speak up about wrongdoing?  In the first three drafts of this writing, I enumerated wrongdoings which have particularly affected me, given that none of them are points which our society (or is it the media?) currently considers important.  There are a lot of pieces of wrongdoing that go under the radar.  As a sports fan, I’ve gotten a pile of reporting about the Penn State scandal, the acts of which go back to 1998.  As a former college football player, I know that little wrongdoings go on all the time, albeit not of the degree of the current news.  For instance, I would imagine that all college football teams have a grad assistant who has assigned to him walk-ons in which the coaching staff have determined are insufficiently talented to help them, and the grad assistant’s job is to make those players lives and practices as miserable as possible, so as to give incentive to such players to quit.  As having worked for various companies at bottom level jobs for all my life, I know that little wrongdoings go on all the time; its almost an idiom that any rich person, knowingly or unknowingly, “stomped on” some little persons (economically and politically, not the abnormally short) on their way to wealth.  Further, if an employee has been determined to be a good enough worker that a company doesn’t want to fire them, but wants them gone, a manager can always find some personal imperfection such as to give the employee a first, then second, then third, write up, with the last being sufficient reason to fire a person and not be liable to some state department of labor penalties.  The world considers this normal.  It is sufficiently distasteful that the world doesn’t want to talk about it unless it crosses the line to illegal, or something that should be. 

            It is hard for us in this culture to absorb the idea that we have no more right to expect fairness from the world than we can be grateful that, thanks to Jesus, we don’t expect what we deserve from God.

No comments:

Post a Comment