Now, why does James not mention the widowers? After all, the widower also experiences that same pang of suffering that goes with losing a lifelong mate. Well, every man that I’ve ever talked to always says they want to go first because they can’t imagine living life without their wives. I can’t prove it, but I think that’s one of the reasons why the normal life expectancy of the man is shorter than the life expectancy of the woman, because God is gracious to us men, and He knows that we’re not as strong as women. But what I do know for sure is that widows have always experienced particular difficulties in every age and culture. They faced particular problems in the ancient world. There weren’t insurance programs, annuities, or other sorts of things, and without a husband, the widow was usually the most vulnerable and helpless person in the community. Widows had little or no means of support in ancient societies. Thus, the care of the widows was given to the church both in the Old Testament and in the New.
Jesus frequently pays attention to widows in His teaching. Just consider the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12:41–45. Who is it that normally gets the attention in the church? The people who are the big donors, the ones whose donations are so important to the ongoing funding of the church’s budget. Few pay attention to the poverty-stricken person who makes a tiny donation that’s insignificant to the budget’s bottom line. But Jesus noticed what everyone else overlooked. He told His hearers to look at the poor widow. Even though the woman gave only the equivalent of two pennies to the temple, she put in more than all the rest of the people who donated heavily to the treasury because in giving out of her own poverty, she gave out of her devotion to God.
One of the most tender moments recorded in the New Testament is found in John 19:16b–27. While Christ was on the cross, He looked in the direction of His mother, who was an eyewitness to His passion, and He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” He was not asking His mother to look at Him. Obviously, she already was looking at Him. Then, Jesus said to John, “Behold your mother!” In His dying moments, Jesus was commending the care of His widowed mother to His beloved disciple, John. On the cross, Jesus said to John, “John, you take care of My mother. She’s a widow, so let her be to you as your own mother.” To Mary, He said, “Mother, let John be to you as your own son.”
What are sons for? To look after their mothers. What are mothers for but to look after their children? When you think of all of the years and the opportunities where mothers have looked after their children when they enter into their loneliness, the first line of care is to be the surviving family. But it by no means stops there, because the larger family is the church. James, the brother of Jesus, sees this mandate to care for widows as so important that he uses it to describe the crystallized essence of true religion. Do you think you’re religious, but you don’t care about the widows? Your religion is an exercise in futility, because James says pure and undefiled religion is the care of widows and of orphans in times of trouble.