Our readings today are Ezekiel 28 and James 2:1-13, both of which seem to be critical of rich people. Most of chapter 28 of Ezekiel is a prophecy and lament against the ruler of Tyre, who by wisdom and understanding became rich. In James, we are warned not to show favouritism to the rich, who are after all, exploit you.
Selective reading of these texts might lead some to argue that God is against the rich, and that we too should harbour an attitude of contempt toward the wealthy. Such a reading however, would be wrong. Wealth was often seen, particularly in the Old Testament, as being blessed by God. Solomon for example was wise and wealthy, as a direct result of God’s blessing. Job was considered blameless and upright; and he was very wealthy — the greatest man among all the people of the East. How can it be that the ruler of Tyre’s wisdom and wealth leads to God being against him?
A closer reading would see the common thread between these passages in Ezekiel and James is not being rich, but rather where those riches might lead your heart, in relation to God. For in his heart, the ruler of Tyre thinks he is as wise as a God due to his great success. It is a proud and haughty heart that declares to himself, “I am a God”. Likewise in James, the sin of the rich is not their wealth but their exploitation of others and blaspheming the name of God. Such outcomes are born of relying on wealth rather than on God. By showing the rich among us favour compared to those less well off, we repeat that sin of exploitation, violating the command to love our neighbour.
Jesus said “it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven”, and also that we should “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.
Job who was extremely wealthy, regularly made sacrifices to God on behalf of his children in case they had sinned. He was in a very tangible way taking from his worldly wealth in order to store up treasures in heaven.
It might be tempting to think that this is a problem I’m not likely to struggle with. I’m not rich, certainly not like the ruler of Tyre, or Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet. But even those of us who feel like we struggle financially have more wealth than the vast majority of the world’s population. No matter how wealthy you think you are (or aren’t) the question that matters more than your material wealth is whether your heart is rich toward God.
Questions to ask myself quietly today before God —
- Do I have a proud heart?
- Has my skill or wisdom led to success?
- Does my success lead me to rely on God less?
- Is my heart following treasures stored in heaven or elsewhere?
- Do I dishonour the poor by showing favouritism to the rich?
- Am I judgemental of those who have more than me because of their wealth?
Lord help me to have a humble heart before you, dependent on you, ready to use my resources to bless others as I seek to love my neighbour.