Summary: The fortunes of God’s people are not determine by their bank account, but by their relationship with God.
In China many years ago there lived an old man, with his son and a horse. Back in those days, having a horse was like owning a car today, so you can well imagine how valuable a property the animal must have been. One morning, when the man went to his field to feed the horse, the animal was gone. People in the village said, "What bad luck to lose a horse!" But the old man said, "Good luck or bad luck, who’s to say. The horse happens to be gone, and we’ll leave it at that." The people thought the old man silly, and wondered, "How could losing a horse not be a bad thing?"
A couple days later, the horse returned and brought with it a beautiful mare. People came by again. "You were right. Not only was your horse not stolen, it brought you another horse. How lucky you are!" But the old man said, "Good luck or bad luck, who’s to say. It’s not always a good thing to have another horse. The fact is, now I have two horses, and we’ll leave it at that." This time, his neighbors just shook their heads. "How could it not be a good thing to get another horse for free?"
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the old man’s son, while trying to break in the new horse, fell and broke his leg. When the neighbors learned of the incident, they said, "You’re right. Since the new horse caused your son to break his leg, maybe it wasn’t exactly a good thing to get another horse. In fact, you might say it was unlucky for you that another horse showed up.
Same as before, the old man was indifferent about the whole thing, and said, "Good luck or bad luck, who’s to say. My son fell off and broke his leg, and we’ll leave it at that."
This time the neighbors thought that maybe the old man was right, and went back home. A few days later, a war broke out and a government official came into town. He conscripted all the able-bodied young men to go and fight in the war. However the old man’s son was made exempt because of his broken leg.
I think that James would have liked that story. He seemed to enjoy an ironic twist or two as he began his letter with such a challenging thought as "consider it pure joy when you endure trials of many kinds." This week as we come to verses 9-11 of that first chapter, he gives us another ironic turn of a phrase.
I have to be honest, with a quick read that passage is tough to understand. When I first read it, I wasn’t sure what it was saying. It is obviously talking about rich and poor people, but I just wasn’t sure what he was saying about them.
After a little pondering and study, I came to understand what I believe James wants us to recognize. The fortunes of God’s people cannot be determined simply by their financial status. That is a good lesson for those of us who live in 21st century USA to learn. Our culture tends to believe that if a person is wealthy they have it made, while those who are poor face difficulties and pain because of their poverty. James turns that kind of wisdom on its head as he challenges us to recognize that neither poverty nor wealth is a means of determining the fortunes of a person.