James 4:13 - 5:6
Néstor O. Míguez
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. 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 labourers 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 in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
"To his naaaaame..." shouts the preacher. "Glory!", responds a joyful congregation of very humble people with grubby children running around and young people showing signs of drug and alcohol use. The antiphone is repeated three or four times, the shouts grow stronger each time. Some people faint or go into a trance. This is a Pentecostal rally on the outskirts of a heavily-populated Latin American city. But, with only a few minor differences, similar events could also be found in Los Angeles, Cape Town or even Oslo. Elsewhere, or in those same places, similar crowds sing ancient litanies out of tune, pray their rosaries, drag their feet on pilgrimages to images of the Virgin in southern Italy or Manila. We find young Buddhists in orange-coloured robes dancing in public squares in New York or Geneva, promoting vegetarianism on the public transport in Buenos Aires. In France a conflict is emerging with young Muslim girls wanting to wear their headscarves to school. Globalization is also a religious phenomenon.
There are fast-food restaurants in most of the world's large cities. Many people, both young and old, sit down in front of computers playing online games for fun. The same sportswear brands use the same advertisements all over the world. Football is replacing traditional children's games in the heart of Africa and is the new craze on North American university campuses. The same sports channel broadcasts Formula One even for the viewers who have never set eyes on a sports car. More than half of the world's population have never used a telephone. However, their ability to feed themselves depends on calls made thousands of kilometres away. Globalization changes traditions and customs, alters how we use our free time, rushes communication, and decides whether to cut off or continue charitable aid programmes. Without noticing, it shapes our lifestyles whether we are in a small village in the south of Chile, in Mindanao or in Iceland.
When the New York Stock Exchange closes, the one in Tokyo opens, and in seconds, hundreds of millions of dollars flow from one side of the world to the other in the electronic transactions of the virtual financial market - making a fortune for a daring financial expert or bankrupting a factory employing hundreds of workers. Argentina and Brazil produce millions of tons of soya, even though it hardly features in the diet of their inhabitants, but it is their principal export. However, hundreds of thousands of children are hungry in those same countries. This too is globalization.
If on one hand we can see the public effects of globalization in the internationalization of customs or religious and cultural pluralism, the less visible effect is that the accumulation of wealth has reached its highest level ever. Never before have so few people had so much money; a minority of the world's population (less than 15 percent) consumes more than 80 percent of the available resources. Never have there been so many poor people, never has the gap been so wide between the wealth of the rich and the misery of the poor. And, thoughtless exploitation of natural resources is jeopardising the very existence of human life on the planet, even for the rich. This is the other face of globalization.
What are Christian communities doing in the light of this reality? Some take heart because the technology allows them to take the message of faith everywhere. But if this message cannot change the day-to-day reality of the 70 percent of the world's population living in poverty or help us to use the gifts of creation in a sustainable manner, these blessings will soon become a curse. James's letter, written during the globalization' brought on by the Roman Empire, anticipates the problems of the current Empire's globalization: the greed of those self-appointed masters of the world and of life, the accumulation of riches versus the poverty of the exploited, the corruption which prevails in a world that does not hear the voice of the righteous one.
The Christian faith was the first to think about what we now know as "globalization", the universal extension of its message. But it proposed a globalization of love, the universal calling to the grace and justice of God. The current globalization of inequalities, cultural impositions and rapid earnings at the cost of the poor is its exact opposite. This is why James was already warning that those who work like that make themselves enemies of the love of God.
Being a community that heals and reconciles is, therefore, being a community of the "other" globalization, the globalization proposed by the Holy Spirit, that is coupled with hope, that expresses itself through charity, that respects identities and proposes ways of justice; a community that can raise up prophetic voices, like James's, to warn against impending destruction should we bind ourselves to the globalization of accumulation and injustice. We are called, therefore, to globalize the message and the practices that return humankind to obedience of the God of love, to a willingness to serve, to the enjoyment of shared living: that is the healing and reconciliatory work of the Spirit.
Suggestions for use
This issue can also help us with intergenerational dialogue (which is another thing that technological globalization tends to destroy). Young people could talk to their parents, grandparents, relatives and older friends, also in the Church, to discover what customs and cultural aspects have changed in the last generation. Then we can make a list to see how globalization has affected the life of this community.
After making the list, note on one side the benefits of each change, and then the bad things that it could have caused. We may note that in some cases the same situations are considered beneficial for some and harmful for others. Or that some of the supposedly "good" things end up having a destructive effect on the life of the community.
Lastly, look at the passage in James 4:13-5:7. What criteria does the apostle use to differentiate the good things from the bad things?
The discussion could provide an indication of how we, as communities, can help a globalization of justice, even for local issues.
Another option would be to ask the young people to collect pictures, posters, or print or television advertisements, for "international", global products and analyse them to find out what values they bring. This could lead to a debate on what is hidden behind "globalized" culture. Then we could see if these are the values and practices denounced by James. An interesting example could be clothing, which is one of the most internationalized products, but one which James condemns to rot.
How can we offer a Gospel "counterculture"? How would we go about advertising "universal grace"?