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.
James 1:27 (TNIV)
Mark Twain once remarked that it was not the things that he did not understand in the Bible that bothered him, it was the things that he did understand.
I don’t know about you, but this is one of those places for me. The writer of the book of James makes this astounding statement about a religion that is “pure” and “faultless.” What is astounding is that he opens the door to the idea that religion, in its proper expression, is not cold and lifeless, but is actually fresh and life-giving.
Religion in its proper expression is not about living a perfect life, nor about being able to check off the “religious to-do list,” but about embodying the heart of God. It is about living a life in which we “follow God’s example” (Eph. 5:1), caring about and taking action on the same things and in the same way that the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, displayed for us.
Time and again, the Scriptures display God’s heart for the last and the least of society. It appears that this is a subject that is very close to the heart of God, and thus should be one that is close to the heart of those who are followers of God. Perhaps one of the greatest legacies that we leave the next generation of Christians is a strong expression of caring for those who are close to the heart of God – those who are the last and least in society.
What if, rather than being known for what it stands against, the people of God were known for what they stood for? What if we, the Church, were best known as a conduit of love and grace to a world that is in desperate shortage of both? Caring for those who are the last and the least is not only a good ideal, but rather it appears to be central to a life that pleases God.
So may we be the kinds of people who embody the Franciscan benediction:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you
with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.
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What are some practical ways in which you can care for the last and the least in your community?
Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:17-18; Isaiah 1:16-17; Jeremiah 5:26-29; Ezekiel 16:49-50; Acts 4:32-35
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