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 in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. – James 5:4-6
Did you catch that?
This is not just another soak-the-rich screed, even though the Bible is full of them, and James (thought to be a brother of Jesus) warns “rich people” to “weep and wail for the miseries” coming their way.
Nor is it just another exhortation to fair labor practices, though the Bible is full of those, too.
No, read the passage again.
Do you see what James did there? Did you notice the connection he makes between how workers are treated and how we honor—or dishonor—Christ? Did you catch how he equates the exploitation of laborers with the execution of the Suffering Servant?
James is better known as the theological flip side to the apostle Paul. Paul assures us that we are saved by grace; James adds that faith without works is dead. But there’s more: While Paul warns that the wages of sin would be our death if not for Christ, James goes further, saying that the sin of low wages kills Christ all over again. And again.
Whoa. That’s some pretty serious dot-connecting, Brother James. That’s some incarnational Labor Day theology.
Now most of us are not “rich oppressors” exactly. We don’t employ lots of people or set pay scales for large corporations. And yet: We do decide where to buy our food and do our shopping. We can research the labor practices of the businesses we patronize. We can actively support legislation to increase the federal minimum wage and improve conditions for farmworkers.
And if we’re among the many workers being treated unjustly, we can know that Christ labors alongside us and joins our struggle for justice. And the next time any of us gets paid, we can give thanks for a savior who cares about what’s in our check.
Christ the Worker, teach us how to do all work for God. And remind us to see you in all workers. Amen.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.