The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvily’s Commentary on James 5:1-6

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 25, 2012

This post begins with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of chapter 5, followed by his notes on the reading. I’ve included (in purple text) his paraphrase of the text he is commenting on.


In this chapter, St. James denounces against the hard-hearted rich, the heaviest punishments in the life to conic, on account of their crimes and cruelties towards the poor (Jam 5:1). These cruelties he enumerates. First—Their hard-heartedness was such, as to suffer their wealth to rot, sooner than give it to the poor (Jam 5:2), and their money to rust, sooner than dispense it: the consequence of which is, that they will suffer the severest punishments (Jam 5:3). The next crime he charges them with is, defrauding the labouring poor of their hire, one of the most iniquitous means of amassing riches (Jam 5:4). He then charges them with leading luxurious and debauched lives, painpering themselves in delicacies, like cattle destined for slaughter (Jam 5:5). And finally, he charges them with committing the most heinous crime, of persecuting unto death, innocent just men; and, as an aggravating circumstance of their injustice, he states, that these were unable to make resistance (Jam 5:6).

Turning to the poor and persecuted, he exhorts them to patience by several considerations such as the near approach of the Lord—the example of the husbandman, who patiently endures hardships in hopes of the distant harvest (Jam 5:7-8). He cautions them against murmurings (Jam 5:9), and consoles them by the examples of the prophets of old, and especially by the example of Job (Jam 5:10-11). He prohibits rash swearing (Jam 5:12).

He promulgates the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (Jam 5:13-15). He exhorts them to the confession of their sins, afid to prayer for one another, and he adduces the example of Elijah, as an instance of efficacious prayer (Jam 5:16-19). Finally, he points out the great merit of converting sinners from their evil ways.

Jam 5:1  Go to now, ye rich men: weep and howl in your miseries, which shall come upon you.

Come on, now, ye (hard-hearted and haughty) rich men, weep and howl on account of the miseries in which you shall be eternally involved (unless you expiate your crimes by a true repentance).

“Go to,” αγε, an interjection, having for object, to excite attention (as in James 4:13). “Ye rich;” some interpreters understand these words to refer to the hard-hearted rich among the Pagans. But it is most probable (as in James 2) that he is addressing the rich, who, contrary to their Christian profession, were guilty of the crimes here enumerated. Of course, there is question of such among the rich, as “were not poor in spirit,” and were guilty of inhumanity towards the poor. “Weep and howl” in anticipation of the miseries, in which you shall be eternally involved hereafter, unless you repent for your crimes; it is to induce them to do penance that St. James menaces them with the rigorous judgments of God. Some Commentators understand the woes here denounced by St. James to have reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the injuries which the rich were to sustain from the party of the zealots, the dominent party at Jerusalem, before its total destruction. It is more probable, however, that the words are to be understood in a more general sense, as extending to the punishments with which the abuse of riches, and the crimes consequent thereon, are visited at all times.

Jam 5:2  Your riches are corrupted: and your garments are moth-eaten.

(As proof of you inhumanity and hard-heartedness towards the poor, who are perishing for want of food and raiment), you permit your substance to rot, and your garments to be eaten by moths, sooner than feed or clothe your famishing brethren.

St. James now recounts the crimes of the rich which draw down such heavy chastisements. The first charge against them is, their inhumanity to the poor, the proof of which is, that they suffer “their riches,” i.e., the abundance of food of all kind sored up in their granaries, to rot, and their superfluous garments to become “moth-eaten,” sooner than feed and clothe the hungry and famishing poor. There cannot be a greater proof of their inhumanity and hard-heartedness—crimes so strongly denounced in every part of sacred Scripture.

Jam 5:3  Your gold and silver is cankered: and the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you and shall eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up to yourselves wrath against the last days.

Your gold and silver (which you should have expended on the suffering poor) is idly laid by; and the rust of this money, hoarded up, shall serve to accuse your barbarous inhumanity, and be witness against you on the day of judgement, and shall serve as the moral cause of your tortures in inextinguishable flames; you have laid up for yourselves a treasure of wrath and heavy punishment, against the day of final judgment.

“Your gold and your silver is cankered.” Another instance or proof of their inhumanity to the poor, against whose cries, their hearts are steeled and their bowels closed. Their gold and silver utensils, probably, had a greater proportion of alloy than in modern times; and hence, were liable to rust. “And the rust of them shall be for a testimony against you,” inasmuch as it will be a witness of their inhumanity, in having these riches uselessly laid by—contrary to all laws natural and divine, while the wretched poor were starving. And shall eat your flesh as fire,” because it shall be the moral cause of their tortures in the avenging flames of hell; or, because the recollection of this rusting of their wealth, which they might have meritoriously expended on God’s poor, will supply fresh food to the eternal gnawing of the never-dying worm of conscience, one of the bitterest torments of the damned. Some even add, that there is allusion here made to the painful effects of rust rubbed into raw flesh, which gives us a vivid idea of the dreadful punishment, that is sure to overtake either the abuse, or the unjust acquisition of riches.

“You have stored up to yourselves (wrath) against the last days,” this is referred by some to the days then immediately preceding the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, Others, more probably, understand the words of the day of general judgment, when both body and soul shall be tormented. “Wrath” is not found in the Greek, which runs thus, you have treasured up for yourselves, &c. Hence, the word was, most likely added to the passage from (Rom 2:5), where the phrase is very like the present, and refers to the punishments of the life to come. The Greek reading is understood by others to mean: You have been so eager for sordid gain as not to cease from amassing it even in your last days, in extreme old age, when you can have but very little time for enjoying it.

Jam 5:4  Behold the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth: and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

You have resorted to the most iniquitous practices for amassing wealth. Behold the hire of the laborers, who have reaped down your fields, which you have unjustifiably withheld from them, cries for vengeance against you; and the cry of those whom you have thus injured, has been attended to by Him who is able to inflict summary vengeance on you—the Lord God of armies.

The crime with which he charges them, and which is calculated to draw down upon them the heavy vengeance of God is, defrauding the labourer of his hire. This is said “to cry against them,” a form of expression which strongly points out its enormity. Hence, it is reckoned among the sins, which cry to heaven for vengeance. “Which by fraud has been kept back by you.” The Greek word, αφυστερημενος means, to keep back by any unjustifiable means. “And the cry of them,” i.e. of those who have reaped (for, this latter is expressed in the Greek, των θερισαντων), “hath entered the ears of the Lord of sabaoth,” which shows the prompt vengeance to be inflicted in punishment of this crime. ” Lord of sabaoth,” i.e., the Lord of armies, who, therefore sets at nought all human power and greatness. In him the poor and the orphan, although here apparently helpless, have a powerful defender, ” ” Tibi derelictus est pauper, orphano tii eris adjutor (Translation: “To thee is the poor man left: thou wilt be a helper to the orphan”Psalm 10:14) “Sabaoth,” this Hebrew word is retained by St. James, because it sounds better in the ears of the Jews, as expressing God’s power and majesty. The same has been done by the Septuagint translators who always retain the Hebrew word “Sabaoth.” If such heavy punishments are here denounced by the Apostle against individual cases of the unjust detention of the labourers’ hire, what must the grievous enormity of their crimes, who, after ruthlessly exterminating entire districts, unjustly appropriate to themselves, against the clearest dictates of every law, natural and divine, the accumulated and permanent fruits of the labour, sweat, time, and money of the defenceless occupier of the soil? If this be not detaining and defrauding, on a gigantic scale, the hire of labourers, it is hard to say what else is. Will not this National sin, in many instances aggravated by heartless cruelty, and committed against the defenceless poor, out of hatred of their religion, cry to heaven for vengeance?

Jam 5:5  You have feasted upon earth: and in riotousness you have nourished your hearts, in the day of slaughter.

You have lived in delicacies and debaucheries upon the earth, and you have feasted your hearts, preparing yourselves for vengeance,  like the animals fattened for slaughter.

“You have feasted upon earth,” i.e., like the rich glutton in the Gospel (Luke 16:20, &c.), you indulged in unbounded and sumptuous gratification in eating and drinking and the enjoyment of good cheer. “And in riotousness you have nourished your hearts.” In Greek it is, και εσπαταλησατε εθρεψατε τας καρδια, and you have rioted; you have nourished your hearts. “You have rioted,” refers to the crime of voluptuousness and the indulgence of impure pleasures—an inseparable attendant of excess in eating and drinking—”in vino luxuria” (Eph 5:18), “venter æstuans mero spumit hi libidinem” (St Jerome). “You have nourished your hearts,” i.e., indulged in good cheer unto satiety.” “In the days of slaughter.” In some Greek copies, as in a day of slaughter; the Vulgate follows the Vatican MS., which, besides the meaning in the Paraphrase, may also mean, that their daily banquets were like festival days, on which the victims were slain, and great feasting indulged. The meaning in the Paraphrase, however, seems preferable.

Jam 5:6  You have condemned and put to death the Just One: and he resisted you not.

You have procured the condemnation and death of just and un-offending men, whenever they stood in your way, and what adds to, and aggravates your guilt-you did this, when the victims of your unjust persecution were quite helpless, and unable to resist you.

The next crime with which he charges them is of a still blacker character. “You have condemned,” i.e., caused to be condemned, contrary to all justice—or, the word may mean, that, while by a mockery of justice, instituting a trial, in which might was the only rule of justice, they condemned and put to death the just man. “And he resisted you not,” which shows the helplessness of their victim, and the consequent aggravation of their cruelty and injustice towards him. Of the injustice referred to by St. James, the murder of Naboth by Achab (2 Kings 21), is adduced by Commentators, as a most striking exemplification. By “the just one,” some interpreters understand Him, who was just by excellence—our Blessed Redeemer, whom the Jews put to death. It more probably, however, refers to just men in general, who might stand in the way of the aggrandizement or further enrichment of those unjust rich men, whom St. James is here addressing, and the singular number, “the just one,” is employed, for emphasis sake, to show the helplessness of each victim of oppression, which is more clearly seen, by considering each case individually.

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