If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 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.
Reflection by Matthew Alexander
I am struck mostly by the definition of religion in these verses. Religion means to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. The majority of folks I speak with would not define religion in this manner. Today, religion is viewed more as an institution with a set of defined doctrines and governing body that directs the goals and future of that institution. Religion has come a long way since James wrote these words. And the direction it has gone is a far cry from what it was established to do.
Fortunately, most religious institutions still attempt to care for the orphans and widows in distress. Many have mission projects and other outreach programs which allow them to provide service to a world in desperate need of care. Unfortunately, a lot of these institutions have not been unstained by the world. Evidence of their staining comes as many religions seek financial security and power. The need to be right and to be the dominant voice often overshadows the need to be with those who have little to no voice.
Religion, I believe, gets its bad rap because of the worldly staining streaked upon it over the centuries. A time of reflection that gets any religion back on its course to care for the orphans and widows would do any institution good. It would also do us as individuals good to take time to reflect on our own religion. How has your religion been stained by the world? Are you protecting it with things like wealth, power, and the need to be right? What do you need to do in order to get back to a religion of caring for the widows and orphans of this world?
Guide our hearts, O Lord. Open them up so that we may see how they have been stained. Show us the way of caring for the weak, grief stricken, and voiceless of these world. Do this so that our religion will become pure before you. Amen.