Why has Emma survived and remained popular for so long? Perhaps it is that Jane Austen was a keen observer of people and their places in her society in England. She wrote paragraph after paragraph describing characters, often solely through dialogue.
Emma’s world was the town of Highbury in England, and more specifically, the estate of Hartfield which her father owned. Emma was rich. In fact, Highbury was a neighborhood housing the elite of society. In Austen’s world, being rich meant that the people had money, grand homes and estates, a good education, and polite manners that exuded refinery and gentleness. If the men were handsome and the women pretty with large dowries, their chances for a favorable marriage were much enhanced.
We do not have any problem imagining such a world, for people have not changed in the last two hundred years. Our planet teems with people of every class, from beggars to those who live in luxury and splendor. Television and internet advertising speak to the desires of our hearts for power, wealth, comfort, and beauty.
As Christians, we fight the urge to give in to materialism. We desire the means to better ourselves in society. We want the beautiful house in an upscale neighborhood, the job that says we are well-educated, the expensive car, the gadgets and clothes that give us and our children popularity and acclaim.
Once we have those things, they are never enough. We push ourselves to get more. It is not fashionable or popular to stop and speak to the drunkard on the street. We don’t want to be seen with people of a lower class who live on the poor side of town.
The words of Christ demand that we do just that. Whoever our neighbor is, whatever his circumstances in life, Jesus calls us to love him as we love ourselves and to help him. He says to us, “Ye are the salt of the earth” and “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5: 13, 14, ASV). We are the salt that delays the decay of society into hatred, violence, and crime. Our salt enhances the flavor of life by teaching others how to drive bitterness, anger, selfishness, and cynicism from their characters. The salt God gives us to disperse in the world causes others to thirst after God’s Word and His righteousness. We must shine with God’s light to show others how to love and to have peace, joy, optimism, and satisfaction.
Easy? No. Jane Austen wrote to show her society as it was, but not to change it. Our work is to show people around us how to change and live for God. Christians work together with God to bring others into His Kingdom. Through us the teachings of Christ spread to all the world making people citizens of heaven.