First World Problems

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.

James 5:1-6, Second reading


The readings for this week are filled with the wrath of God. Even the Gospel tells us to cut off limbs or gouge out our eyes if those parts of our body are sinning. These passages, like James speaking of devouring flesh and murder, are hard to read. In the context of the world, I am rich. Yet I do not have workers that I am withholding wages from. Am I living in too much luxury and pleasure? Am I storing up my treasure for the last days? Does God consider me a murderer with a fattened heart?

I have lived among homeless women in Denver, rural farmers in Uruguay and El Salvador and struggling high schoolers in Kenya. It is always difficult to come back home from these experiences and know what kind of life I should build. It does not help people experiencing poverty for me to be poor, too. But I do believe that my extravagance has consequences for other people in the world. I work to live a simple life that is healthy so that I am strong enough to work for change. I try to live a life that I would not be embarrassed to show the women, farmers and high schoolers I have grown to love.

Coming home from Kenya in August, I was very aware of the guilt of my friends. They would complain to me about work and then add, “not that these are real problems compared to what you saw in Kenya.” Some of my friends even admitted not wanting to talk to me about their problems because they were embarrassed. I don’t think that denying our problems because we compare them to the problems of other people is the right course of action. Guilt is an emotion that stops us from acting. We need to honor our problems and get to a healthy place where we can raise the standard of living for other people. Yet, it is also good to keep in mind that we are blessed, and we can fall into complaining about things that might not be worth our negative energy.

When I brought high school students home from El Salvador, I would always encourage them to watch this video called First World Problems. It is funny and clever, and it gave these young people some language. If they found themselves complaining about a slow laptop or being cold in the air conditioning, they could name it as First World Problems and move on. This helped them curb complaining and acknowledge and talk about real struggles in their lives. It also helps us remember those who do not have as much as we do so we can work for a world where everyone has enough.

Do you consider yourself rich? How does this reading make you feel? Is it addressing us?

What do you catch yourself complaining about?

What are some things that you are legitimately struggling with right now?


Photo courtesy of cheesy42 via Creative Commons License

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