James’ words from James 1:27 continue to ring in our ears:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to
look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself
from being polluted by the world.
“Pure and faultless” piety is to show compassion for the orphans and widows. Today we focus briefly on widows first. Widows, which would have included his mother, for James are women whose husband is no longer alive. Widows were vulnerable, and their connection to orphans is storied in Israel’s history. Hence, Isa 1:17:
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Genuine religion cares about widows. Where are they today? Ask my friend Karen Spears Zacharias (Where’s Your Jesus Now?: Examining How Fear Erodes Our Faith
), who has relations with many military widows. Ask your pastor about widows in the community.
When James speaks here of orphans and widows and then to keeping oneself unspotted from the world, he is saying more than “be compassionate” and “be holy.” He thinks concretely: genuine religion acts out toward those in need and …
It keeps itself unspotted from the world. What does he mean here?
I suggest we ask James. James 4:1-6 tells us that friendship with the world is that war-mongering, division-creating anger at work that destroys the fabric of the messianic community. Here are his words:
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You
want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot
have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you
do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is
hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”