Keeping Up with the Joneses
We just spent a chunk of money on our lawn. We update and upgrade our various electronic devices. We spend money and time on our appearances – new clothes, accessories, recreation and exercise equipment, etc.
Then come the prophetic words from the second reading which remind us of our inevitable death: “Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded.” This is a reminder that “you can’t take it with you” –the things we buy and the ways we try to make ourselves appealing or build status in this life ultimately do not come with us in the next. A not-so-gentle reminder that we will all die and this is all temporary. How subtle!
But the reading from James is not a simplistic warning that “spending money is bad.” Rather the sentiment is clearly justice focused -- “Behold the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” On a macro level, this reading calls us to consider those in the “fields” – perhaps literally, or more metaphorically, those in the jobs that are low paying. It speaks to the vast injustices in our country – as the rich gain money and equity and resources, the poor continue to get poorer. James is so clear that God hears those cries, that God has the preferential option for the poor. But on a more personal level, this can also be about simple decisions we make in which we collect money for ourselves and we don’t think about how we are contributing to the lives of others. We can be more concerned about “getting a deal” than paying fair wages. The reading causes me to ask, “How can I be more just in my monetary decisions? How can I consider those in the “fields” when I spend and when I vote? Beyond me and my wallet, what policies can demand wages that are equitable and just?”
This reading calls us to take stock of our time and attention. Just in the way our devices report to us daily how much time we spend on them, I wonder how much time we all spend investing in building status, and how much time we spend investing in our spiritual well-being. For me, I know my socioeconomic privilege causes me to focus on “keeping up with the Joneses,” so the call is to reground myself in my own spiritual growth instead. It invites me to spend more time and energy on the things that are lasting – my relationship with God, and how I treat those around me. A healthy understanding of my own mortality, my limited time on this earth and the inevitability of death, is not the worst thing when it comes to bringing life into focus and recentering my time to match my values and my faith.