Sometimes we find wisdom in the most unlikely places. Many years ago, a tea company printed little axioms for life with their tea bags. Some of them sounded a bit corny, but they might still shine a light on an important truth. I remember one in particular. “It is not how much water you are in that drowns you, but how much water is in you.” That is to say, there is no problem being in the deep end of the swimming pool if you can swim, but if too much of the pool is in you, it’s curtains!
Today’s selection from the letter of James is also written in the biblical wisdom tradition of giving advice on how a believer should act in daily circumstances. Many books of the New Testament, including admonitions of Jesus in the Gospels, caution Christians about the danger of wealth. Having money is not the problem, but money sometimes changes the person who has a lot of it. We need only recall the rich young man who truly aspired to a holy life, but could not free himself from his possessions when Jesus offered him a chance to become a disciple. It is as if the man’s possessions had gotten “inside him” and were obstructing his freedom to do the very thing that would have brought him the fulfillment which he sought from Jesus.
Today’s example in James cautions us from allowing material wealth to affect the way we treat people when they come to church. All are welcome, rich and poor. Secular society often parcels out esteem on the basis of perceived bank accounts. But James says that we must be careful lest such earthly standards get “inside us” and take over the way we treat one another in the community. “Listen, my beloved brothers, did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5)
Money is not bad, because it is evident that few things in the church will run well without money. Volunteerism is good but does not suffice. Though money itself is not bad, “the desire for money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Well, if not all evil, most of it! Read the newspapers which report on the troubles the desire for money causes. There is no way to inoculate Church members against that mischievous desire.
James says today, Listen up, church, and let the wisdom of the tea bag remind you of the risk which a secular spirit poses for your judgments. Rather, take as your example, Jesus, who “for your sake became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).