Friends recently told us of a young man they know who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was raised in a well-heeled family, coddled, given everything he could possibly want, and allowed to live without boundaries. He now sleeps in a homeless shelter and spends his days on the streets. His entire family, profoundly distressed about his situation, is reaping a harvest of wrong choices. And it’s a bumper crop.
I wonder how Jesus’ family felt about Him.
Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (MAT 8.20)
He wasn’t complaining. He was responding to a scribe who had come up blithely promising to follow Him wherever He went. Jesus was essentially asking this privileged and respected Jew, “Are you sure you’re ready to become a homeless man?” There is no suggestion in the text that the scribe really did follow Jesus.
James, Jesus’ little brother, knew how Jesus lived. He knew He was a homeless rabbi who traveled all over Galilee and Judea, teaching crowds of people and performing astounding miracles of healing. His wisdom was astonishing, His boldness newsworthy, and His power unearthly. But He–God in flesh!–and his ragged band of disciples were reliant upon the generosity of sympathetic followers for food, clothes, and a place to sleep at night.
In our day, such a man would have an agent and probably a personal security detail. He would appear on all the TV talk shows and his photo would be seen on billboards along the nation’s highways. He would earn an impressive salary and drive an expensive car–or, better yet, have his own chauffeur. He would have assistants to do this, and other assistants to do that. He would never be seen with his hair out of place. His golf clubs would be custom-made. His kids would be in a private school and his beautiful wife would wear Gucci and Chanel and smile demurely whenever she saw a camera.
Not so with Jesus.
Many years after Jesus has returned to heaven, James writes these words in James 1.9-11:
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
His use of the word, “brother,” indicates that he is writing about believers in Jesus. Faith in Christ, in addition to providing the assurance of eternity in heaven, is an equalizer. (James will write more about this in the second chapter of his letter when he speaks to the issue of partiality.) The poor man is exalted in that he shares equally in the glorious eternal inheritance God has promised to those who know Him. The rich believer, by recognizing that his riches cannot buy God’s mercy, prostrates himself in the dust at the foot of the cross along with the brother dressed in rags.
Proverbs 30.8-9 contain the following prayer: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”
Daniel Doriani observes, “The poor are prone to dishonor God by breaking His law, if necessary, to obtain the next meal. But the rich are prone to trust their wealth and power and so to forget God. The rich are also tempted to insult and abuse the poor (JAM 2.6-7), to live for themselves, and to exploit whomever they can (JAM 5.3-6)…The poor must remember they have an exalted position in God’s eyes. The rich must remember the dangers of materialism. They must believe their life is fleeting, impermanent, and beyond their control, as it is for everyone else.” (Daniel M. Doriani, James, P & R Publishing, 2007)
The irises in our back yard were magnificent this year. Admiring them in their dew-drenched beauty became a morning ritual for several weeks. I took lots of photos, including the ones on this page. The second one reminds me of the truth of what James is saying: riches, like flowers, fade and fall off. They are temporal and vulnerable. They are only endowed with eternal value when they are given away!
Both rich and poor can exult in God’s saving, amazing, equalizing grace. As Jesus’ own life attests, it’s far better to be homeless than hopeless.