March 15: Pure Religion

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings,
   if you truly act justly one with another,
   if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow,
      or shed innocent blood in this place,
   and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt,
then I will dwell with you in this place,
   in the land that I gave of old
   to your ancestors forever and ever.
Jeremiah 7:5-7

This Scripture contains a familiar triad of people groups with whom God is specially concerned — the alien, the orphan, and the widow. In fact, these three groups are found together in ten different places throughout the Old Testament, not to mention the times that only one or two is mentioned.

In other words, WE OUGHT TO PAY ATTENTION CLOSELY to these words.

According to the Law and the Prophets, a nation is judged by how it cares for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Not its gross domestic product, nor its military strength, nor its unemployment rate. It doesn’t matter how great a country is, or how prosperous, or how secure — if aliens, widows, or orphans are suffering, then God will turn away.

It can’t get much clearer than that.

At this precise moment in the US, an argument could be made that each of these three groups is currently under attack.

Regarding the alien, consider the fact that the new administration has ramped up enforcement of existing immigration laws, and broadened the definition of those who might be targeted for deportation. The result is that ICE raids have sharply increased, separating parents from children, and striking fear in the hearts of immigrants. Furthermore, the recent executive order has frozen refugee resettlement for four months, and drastically reduces the overall number of refugees who will be admitted into the country. It’s clear — the alien is oppressed in our land.

Regarding the orphan (in Middle East culture, a fatherless child is considered an “orphan,” even if the mother is still alive), consider the fact that Dallas has the highest rate of child poverty of the biggest American cities. And see yesterday’s devotional for a report on the failure of Child Protective Services to protect Texas children from abuse. It’s clear — the orphan is oppressed in our land.

Regarding the widow, consider the fact that, according to AARP, the new healthcare bill proposed by the administration and Congressional Republicans “would hike premiums for older Americans, weaken Medicare and put at risk the 17.4 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid.” Given that the average age a woman becomes a widow is 59, healthcare costs can be a significant burden on a widow. It’s clear — the widow is oppressed in our land.

The repeated theme to care for the alien, orphan, and widow is not restricted to the Hebrew Scriptures alone. In the gospels, Jesus took particular notice of aliens, orphans, and widows. Not only did he move comfortably around foreigners and Gentiles, but he welcomed children to his side, and showed special concern for widows.

The writer of the book of James put it succinctly: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (1:27).

Is it clear enough now?

If we are going to do this “Christianity” thing right, at the very least, we’re gonna have to take care of the alien, orphan, and widow.

Period.

Prayer: God, let me be a sanctuary for those in need. Keep my eyes open to the aliens, orphans, and widows in my community. Amen.

Justice Challenge: Write down the name of one alien, one orphan, and one widow whom you personally know. Do one act of kindness for each one of them today. NOW.