True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us. — James 1:27
I was looking through my exhaustive concordance recently (okay, I typed the word into the Bible Gateway App on my phone) to see how many times the word “orphan” was used in the Bible. In the Common English Bible, including the Apocrypha, it is used 57 times. As I began looking through the results, they surprised me a bit more than I thought they would.
Understandably, many of the results were from the Old Testament prophets, talking to the Nation, challenging them to protect and look out for the orphans, which is often used in parallel to the immigrants. What was surprising though was that the word is only used three times in the New Testament, two of them coming from John’s Gospel and being used in a spiritual sense.
In his general epistle to the Church, James is the only one who gives a direct challenge, talking about caring for widows and orphans.
Over 1500 years ago when the Bible was being formed, there was a heretic named Marcion, who claimed that we should throw out the Hebrew Bible and only keep the New Testament. Many of us are practical Marcionites today, only reading meaning from the Second Testament. It’s easier to do this, because we don’t have to wrestle as much with texts of terror… We also lose much of God’s heart for widows, orphans, and immigrants, when we do this.
As we go into the advent Season, reading these devotions, I encourage you to think about the ways in which God’s calling to love and care for children of immigrant, migrant, asylum-seeking, and refugee people is much larger than we might have considered, much like the proliferation of the word “orphan” in our Bible.
Read these devotions this month, encountering words from several pastors and laity in Eastern North Carolina. May you read with your heart sensing God’s.
— Jason Villegas