Summary: It takes a strong heart to forego revenge in order to allow for the Lord’s retribution.
In his autobiography, Number 1, Billy Martin tells about a hunting trip he took to Texas with Mickey Mantle. Mickey had a friend who would let them hunt on his land. When they reached the sprawling Texas ranch, Mickey told Billy to wait in the car while he checked in with his friend. Mickey’s friend told him it was okay to hunt, but he asked Mickey to do him a favor. He had a pet mule in the barn who was going blind, and he didn’t have the heart to put him out of his misery. He asked Mickey to shoot the mule for him.
When Mickey came back to the car, he thought he could have some fun with this. He pretended to be angry, scowling and slamming the car door. Billy asked him what was wrong and he started ranting and raving. “Here we’ve driven all the way down here to hunt and he isn’t going to let us. I’ll show him. If he won’t let us hunt on his land, I’m going out to his barn and shoot one of his mules!”
Mantle drove like a maniac to the barn. Billy Martin protested, “Mickey we can’t do that!” Mantle was red faced. “Just watch me!”
When they got to the barn, Mantle jumped out of the car with his rifle, ran inside, and shot the mule. A couple of seconds later he heard 2 more shots. He ran back to the car and saw that Martin had his rifle too. “What are you doing, Billy?” he yelled. By now Martin’s face was red with anger too. “We’ll show that son of a gun! I just killed two of his cows!”
I wonder if most of us can’t relate. I’ve noticed that there are many people who live their lives on a low smolder, and it really doesn’t take much to fan those glowing embers of anger into a full blown desire for revenge.
- Driving up the interstate, a car flies by and then cuts over into your lane, just missing your front bumper.
- You come out from Wal-Mart to find that the car next to you let their doors fly and there is a new dent in your driver side door.
- Someone you consider a friend that you have helped out many times doesn’t have time whenever you ask them for help.
- Someone close betrays your confidence and shares what you considered privileged information.
- A family member bails out when you really need them.
It’s almost as if you really can’t help it. The knee jerk reaction when you get trashed by someone is to strike back. You want to chase them down, or dent their car, or tell what you know about them, or fail to show up when they need you. Like a cornered animal, the only way you feel like responding is by lashing out, and trying to hurt them as much (or even a little more) than they hurt you.
That was the situation that James was writing to in our text for this morning. The wealthy land owners were stiffing the laborers. All day long they would work in the fields, cutting, harvesting, taking care of all the dirty work. The workers had sunburns on their backs and calluses on their hands, but they had nothing in their pockets to show for it. The land-owners weren’t paying, and they were holding their back pay over their heads to keep them coming back to work. It basically amounted to slave labor.
Now you can imagine how angry you would be if you were one of those laborers. Standing in the field holding a sickle after a hard days labor, what is going to be crossing your mind? “If I ever get the chance, I’ll put this sickle to better use than on the crop. I’ll make them sorry about the way they have treated us! They’ll pay, one way or another!”
To people facing this volatile situation, James writes a letter to both confront and soothe. He doesn’t ignore the landowner’s wrong. If you were here last week we read how James blasted them. He warned them of the wrath of God, and that the money they had failed to pay the workers was going to testify before God and would condemn them in His presence. But now he turns his attention away from the landowners and to the laborers. His message to them is just as confrontational, even if it isn’t as condemning. Hear the words he uses to confront the angry laborers.
(Read James 5:7-11)
Don’t miss the warning in the middle of these verses. “Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.” The landowners were already going to be subject to God’s judgment and wrath. But if the laborers retaliated, they became no better than the landowners. They would be judged for their retaliation. So James gives them 2 commands; “be patient,” and “strengthen your hearts.”