The lectionary readings for the Twenty Second Sunday of Ordinary Time are rich with many themes and insights. They all point toward the true nature of religion as a way of life rather than a way of obedience to regulations of external behavior. The second reading from the Epistle of James provides a rich summary:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:.
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world James 1:27
"Orphans and widows" were among the most vulnerable people in the world of Jesus. Being a woman or a child immediately put one at a disadvantage but being a woman or a child bereft of a male dominated household was even worse. Without a male protector one was considered of no account and was subject to all kind of abuse. Thus to care for widows and orphans was a work of justice and mercy and went against the prevailing culture. It is also a use of synecdoche in which a part signifies the whole: widows and orphans signify all those on the margins of a society, the nobodies, the ones who are forgotten: the old, the poor, the sick, they dying, the imprisoned, the addicted. True religion according to the writer of the Letter of James calls us to action on behalf of all those and not just to obedience to "religious rules."
Perhaps even more important, true religion calls us to keep ourselves undefiled by the world, by the spirit of the world. For contemporary Americans this is a particular challenge because of the nature of our consumer dependent economy and the omnipresence of electronic media. It may be that the only way to keep oneself undefiled is to restrict the access that such media has to our consciousness. I do know that simply to "go with the flow" while telling oneself that I will be moderate in my response to the culture just does not work.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States