The epistle of James, the brother of Jesus, has this to say about our conduct and treatment of the big 3: the poor, the orphans, the widows
1:26-27 “If anyone thinks he is religious, without controlling his tongue but deceiving his heart, his religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
2:1-13 “My brothers, hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ without showing favoritism. For suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring, dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes so that you say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? Yet you dishonored that poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that you bear? If you really carry out the royal law prescribed in Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as trangsgressors. For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all. For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
The instructions about orphans and widows is a lot easier to follow than the instructions about the poor and showing favoritism. While both require love to accomplish, in my own experiences it is a lot easier to love a woman (widow) and children (orphans) than a dingy, rough, and tough man (poor). I am not saying that all of the poor are men, but that is what we typically think of regarding the homeless at least. The other side of the coin is that being poor does not mean being homeless. We have to be careful with our understanding of who the poor are. It will be different within each culture and economic system.
I don’t know completely how we show favoritism in our lives today, but maybe some of the following will get us thinking about how to break down some of the social barriers that hinder our interaction with others outside of our economic class:
1. Having a Vacation Bible School? Post the flyers or drop them off everywhere in town – both the wealthy and the poor neighborhoods.
2. Headed to the public library? Maybe you could stop and buy several toothbrushes with protective holders, and tubes of toothpaste to handout to those sleeping in the park, or making use of the “public” part of the library? Handing out water works too.
3. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter/food center. Even once a month is better than not at all, right?
4. Engage the homeless when the opportunity presents itself. We are an anti-social society when it comes to standing in lines with other folks. Idle chit-chat can go a long way in validating someone’s existence. It may be exactly what that person needs to start pushing forward.
5. What about going and hanging out where the homeless are? I know that most of what I am suggesting is not for the solo woman to pursue, but in a pack of three you might be good to go.
6. Could you and a group of friends head to a local poor side of town with a grill in tow, some soccer balls/Frisbees/etc… and completely bless the socks off an entire community? Yeah! Add in some music and make it an impromptu block party.
The key is to make this a matter of the heart, not a matter of action. If your heart still sees the poor and homeless as outcast and social downgrades, then you have missed the point of James’s rebuke. Jesus taught about matters of the heart in upholding the Law. (Matthew 5:21-6:4)
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.