Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27
The question of what genuine faith looks like is one that we meet in both the Old and New Testaments. The prophet Amos spoke powerfully about the rich people in his society who were so pleased with themselves that they were sure God would reward them in due course. But he told them that, because they had built their wealth through exploiting the poor, God would judge them harshly. They attended the Temple regularly, but Amos told them that God would not accept their sacrifices or listen to their worship (see Amos 5). In the New Testament, Jesus spoke severely to those who put on a show of their praying and fasting but lived lives that far away from God (see Matthew 6).
It was crucial for the early Church to know the difference between people who had genuine faith in Christ and those who didn’t. James was clear that genuine faith would be expressed in loving action towards the most vulnerable members of the community. In the Old Testament, orphans and widows were often identified as those who were most at risk. Without the benefit of a welfare state, those without parents, a spouse or children to look after them were completely vulnerable. In Isaiah 1:17, God lashed out at the emptiness of the people’s worship and commanded them: “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.”
I wonder who you consider to be the most vulnerable members of your community. Because of the welfare state, our list may well be very different from biblical times. It may well vary from community to community. I believe that those who are lonely are particularly vulnerable, and so, too, are those living in poverty, those in later life and people who are differently-abled. I’m also aware that many people have been left behind by modern technology and can be totally confused and alienated by it. Whoever we identify as vulnerable, our response to them is the clearest guide to the genuineness of our Christian faith.
Who are the most vulnerable people in your own community and in what way could you reach out to them?
Loving God, help me to know how to reach out with your love towards the neediest people in my own community. Amen