“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
– James 1:27 (NRSV-CE)
Religion has always been a polarizing force in society. Many of major wars in history have been fought over religion, the Crusades and Hitler’s actions during World War II being the best known of them. Even conflicts in times of peace, such as West-East Schism and the Protestant Reformation, have been due to religion.
But what is religion, really? Religion is a manmade construct, a system of culture. Divinely inspired though some may be, the human aspects of religion, the legalism of it all, has always interfered with religion’s true, actual, and ultimate goal: to commune with God. Because man pays too much attention to dos and don’ts according to scriptures and traditions, they sometimes lose the bigger picture: to be a model of love and peace in a world of suffering and injustice.
The Epistle of James is concerned about Christian behavior rather than beliefs: it was written as a response to potentially un-Christian response to Roman corruption, reminding them to always live lives of love. Love, after all, is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, God being love itself. The verse above, and the object of today’s reflection, is about practicing true faith. The overlying context is about the author James’s speaking out against simply hearing, but not doing, the Word. A profession of faith without actually manifesting it through works of love and service is not pleasing to God; God is more concerned with how we interact with others, how we show others His love.
The fatherless and the widow are usually depicted in the Bible as on the side of the oppressed, since with the death of the husband/father, they have become more “vulnerable” and unstable. Thus, James uses them as an example of the object of care and love. True religion, therefore, is showing and acting on social concern out of love and a desire for justice the Christian way.
He also warns against “staining” by the world: worldly, un-Christian values, thoughts, and deeds – reminding us to always keep the faith in Christ, rooting ourselves firmly to His principles of charity and service. We are to remember not to be selfish or money-driven, among others, but to be God-driven, to serve as continuing pegs of Christ.
This week, I invite you to reflect on your spiritual – not religious, but spiritual – life, how your personal relationship with Christ is, and how it is being manifested in the love and service you show others, especially the less fortunate.