One hundred years ago in Germany a man named Oskar was born who would change the face of history for more than a thousand people. In his mid-twenties, after starting several businesses, he went bankrupt. But then in 1939, with the help of the Third Reich, he gained ownership of a factory in Poland and began making a profit. The first thing he did was hire a Jewish accountant named Stern and together they began to make some serious money. Within three years he was spending it as fast as he made it. You say, “On what? Homes?” No. “Perks?” No, people. He began buying people. He’d go to the commandants of the German concentration camps and offer bribes and payoffs to buy Jewish prisoners to work in his factory. Sometimes the price would be meager, other times it would be exorbitant. Either way he’d pay it. By the end of the year he had spent his entire fortune buying as many people as he could. By the end of the war he had risked both life and fortune buying 1,100 Jewish men, women, boys, and girls and sparing them from certain death.
When the last scene of Schindler’s List was aired 20 years ago on NBC, the television audience was as large as the first moon landing, some 60 million people. There, standing before his factory full of workers, Oskar Schindler announces the war is over, the Nazis are defeated, and everyone is free to go. And as he bids them farewell, he’s overcome by emotion. He cries out, “I should have done more! If only I had not wasted so much money. I could have done more!” He looks over at his automobiles and says, “I could have traded one of those for another 10 lives.” He looks down at a small gold pin on his lapel and says, “I could have given them this and saved at least one more life.” And at that moment Schindler realizes something that most of us never realize - the difference between life and death is often just a matter of money.
Years ago I remember reading of a couple who waited years to have a child, and finally the day arrived. But as soon as he was born, there were bills to pay. He cost them to get out of the hospital. He cost them food and clothing and education. He cost them at every point, “But that’s okay,” said his father, “because that’s what we’re here for.” But then at age 21 the boy died. And suddenly there were no more costs. The man said, “That’s when I learned it. I’ll never join a church that doesn’t want or need my money. Death’s cheap. It’s living that’s costly.”
And of all the people in the New Testament, there’s one who seems to get that more clearly than any other one, and that’s Mary. The Bible says she breaks open a flask of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus’ feet. And in response to that act, Jesus uses a word that He never uses anywhere else in the Gospels. He calls it beautiful. Now the word beautiful is kalos in Greek. It’s the same root from which we get the word kaleidoscope. It speaks of an endless array of refracted brilliance. And Jesus calls what Mary does a kalos thing. Now notice it’s the giving of a gift of treasure that provokes Jesus to use that word. He says, “Truly I tell you, wherever the Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in her memory.” Now why is that? James knows.
When you get to James Chapter 5 there’s no escaping the fact that James has been with Jesus. He understands the meaning of wealth better than anyone. Chapter 5:1-6 contains some of the most pointed words in all of the New Testament regarding what true stewardship and discipleship mean. It’s his second “Come now…” in six verses! He’s in the face of every one of us, because his greatest desire is that we thrive in peace as disciples who are much more in love with Jesus and others than ourselves.
In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
- Who is James referring to in these 6 verses?
- What does “weep and howl” mean in verse 1?
- How do verses 1-3 relate to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21?
- What two concerns is James pointing out in verses 1-3 and verses 4-5?
- Is he speaking only to owners and supervisors in verses 4-5?
- How does verse 4 compare to Genesis 4:10?
- What’s the heart of the issue in verse 5?
- What does verse 6 mean?
- The Greek says, “You have condemned and murdered the Righteous One..” Does that help you understand verse 6?
- How is Mary the antithesis of those James is writing to?