From the Letter of James:
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – James 5:1-5 (NRSV) – November 22, 2012)
It may be the United States’ holiday of Thanksgiving Day, but the Daily Office continues at this time of year delivering its message of repentance rather than encouraging thanksgiving. The Old Testament lesson is another from Malachi in which the Lord speaking to the priests says that he has spread dung on their faces and put them out of his presence! The gospel lesson from Luke has Jesus predicting the end of the world. And then there’s this epistle lesson which condemns the wealthy. Just not a lot of giving thanks!
On the other hand, Jame’s warning about the dangers of wealth is perhaps a fitting counterpoint to the day. During the past several days, the international news services to which I subscribe on the internet have shown pictures not seen on American television or in the US papers, pictures of dead Palestinian children stacked like so much cordwood in makeshift morgues, pictures of children in temporary hospitals missing legs and arms. My throat kept constricting and my tears kept flowing, and in the back of my mind I kept hearing a phrase my step-father often used – “And here we sit – fat, dumb, and happy.”
The President of Egypt and the American Secretary of State have, the news reports, brokered a ceasefire. It’s not peace, but at least the shelling and the missile launches have stopped. At least the 75,000 Israeli reservists activated by their government will not be leaving their families and marching into Gaza. For that we can and surely should be thankful.
I don’t mean to put a damper on the day, and the lectionary pointing us to James’s letter and the other lessons today is simply coincidence. But they are a reminder to pause in the midst of our family gatherings, to eschew being “fat, dumb, and happy,” and to think of things for which we should be truly thankful – love, peace, family, friends – not merely the stuff we possess – the riches, the clothes, the gold, the silver. A sober reminder to pause yet again and “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Ps. 122:6)
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.