A Test We Cannot Fail

A friend of mine who works with orphans in SE Asia once told me that a pastor from a large church in major metropolitan area, after hearing his presentation, asked him point-blank, “What does working with orphans have to do with the Great Commission?” (Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples).

I’ve thought about that question many times since and I can honestly say that there is a part of me that understands why the question was asked. I mean, you could ask the same about hospital visitation, transporting young people to a retreat or giving free gas cards at the pump. I could come up with an endless list of things that on the surface appear not to be related to the imperative to make disciples of all nations. Writing this post, for example, even if I stretched it, could hardly be thought of as an activity that would result in people becoming disciples of Christ.

But caring for orphans seems to be on a category of its own. I don’t know how anyone could miss the connection with Christ’s calling. Now, to be fair, Jesus did not say “Go into all the world and rescue orphans.” He did not say “by baptizing them, teaching them and putting them into orphan homes.” But he did say, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14). Now, someone might say, “Yes, but the children here are not purely orphans.”

Okay, I concede: “caring for orphans is not directly related to the Great Commission,” but according to James, the Lord’s brother, it IS directly related to whether God is pleased with our religion or not. James said, “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).

Think of it this way: when James reduced true religion to its pure essence, what I call “the irreducible minimum” of godliness, he didn’t pick a set of doctrines or the size of one’s church. He chose ACTION on behalf of two of the most vulnerable groups of people of his time – widows and orphans. He chose those with no voice, the ones considered the last and the least by the powers that be. He chose the ones no one wanted to touch. By the way, it is no different today: whenever there is poverty and oppression, women and children are ALWAYS on the frontlines of the suffering.

So how well is God pleased with your religion? This is a test we cannot afford to fail.

A To be sure, James also speaks of one’s personal purity. Why? I suspect because it is easy to act and even do noble things to be seen by people. The sacred text makes it clear here that this is about His business not ours. The world is littered with do-gooders who go astray. We don’t want to be added to their ranks. What we need is a heart that is transformed by God, one that allows us to see people the way God sees them. Then and only then we will act compassionately like Jesus did.

Ivanildo C. Trindade