He also said in his teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who want greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher judgment.”—Mark 12:38-40
The phrase “he also said” indicates that Mark’s summary here is only a brief part of the extensive condemnations of the Scribes and Pharisees, which are found in Matthew 23 and Luke 11:37-54. Jesus gives four examples of what the Scribes and Pharisees took pleasure in, and the first on Jesus condemned them for was showmanship. The long robes that the Scribes and Pharisees wore were festive garments that were unreasonable for everyday wear and were only worn so that people would see how important they were. The phrase “greetings in the marketplace” refers to the fact that people were expected to rise in the presence of the Scribes and Pharisees. And the last two forms of showmanship that Jesus condemned them for really drives home the point that Jesus is making here, “the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.”
The “best seats” faced the congregation, identifying those seated as teachers and distinguished persons. And the “places of honor” or “the best places” at a dinner were next to the host. Jesus here is making the point that the danger of arrogantly taking the best place at a banquet was that the person who invited you could ask you to move to a lower or lowest place at the banquet table, thus causing humiliation rather than honor. It was and still is wise to sit in the seat of the humble and then be asked to move up to a seat of higher honor.
The point that Jesus was trying to make with the warning against showmanship is that we need to watch out for religious leaders who seek recognition and honor from others. Because the motives and desires of their hearts are not true toward God, and Jesus labels them as hypocrites and describes them as frauds and deceivers who only appear to be in a right relationship with God. Such persons are not guided by the desires and direction of the Holy Spirit; rather they are controlled by their own sinful desires. As long as they remain in this condition, they cannot “escape being condemned to hell” (Matthew 23:33).
Jesus, also condemned the Scribes and the Pharisees of being dishonest, hypocrites and thieves. And he gives a very specific example dealing with their treatment of widows. For you see widows, in Jesus’ day and to an extent today, were and still are among the most vulnerable people and to defraud them was and still is considered to be despicable.
The exact phrase that Jesus used to describe the actions of the Scribes and Pharisees towards widows was that “they devour widows’ houses.” What this means is that since the teachers of the law did not receive a regular salary, they depended on the generosity of others. And this system was prone to abuse, and some of the Jewish religious leaders took particular advantage of unsuspecting widows who were willing to help those whom they believed to be men of God. The teachers of the law would ask these widows for unreasonably high donations, even encouraging them to give more than they could afford. The religious leaders would then use these gifts to live luxury. And unfortunately this same pattern has occurred through the history of the church, including right now at this very moment. Because every generation has its experts in religious misrepresentation. And it was misrepresentation that the Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of, because they wanted everybody to believe that they led this perfect life and that this perfect life they supposedly lived entitled them to certain things. And unfortunately we do the exact same thing today.
But thankfully today’s passage ends with a good example of how we should act. And that good example is the widow’s gift.
Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had —all she had to live on.”—Mark 12:41-44
Prior to the events described here Jesus had been in the Court of the Gentiles and now Jesus is in the temple treasury. And the temple treasury was located in the Court of Women, so named not because only women were allowed there but because that was as close as women could come to the sanctuary. The treasury consisted of thirteen trumpet shaped chests into which worshipers deposited their freewill offerings. And the trumpet shape of collection boxes amplified the sound of coins when they were dropped in, making it obvious when rich people deposited large sums. Which leads us directly into what Jesus is teaching here. And Jesus here is giving a lesson on how God evaluates giving. And Jesus does this by pointing out two key things that we need to remember when it comes to giving or doing anything for God really.
- A person’s gift is determined by the amount he or she gives, but by the amount of sacrifice involved in the giving. The rich, at times, give only out of their wealth—making no real sacrifice. The widow’s gift cost her everything. She gave as much as she possibly could.
- The principle discussed above can be applied to all our service for Jesus. Jesus judges our work and ministry not by its size or influence or success, but by the amount of sincere dedication, sacrifice, faith and love involved.
Which leads to the ultimate question today’s passage should be brining you to ask yourself: Am I so radically in love with Jesus that I am willing to give him everything I have or am I more in love with the image that I portray to the world? Because there is no middle ground when it comes to giving your life to Jesus. It is all or nothing. You are either for him or you are against him, but the choice is yours. So which side are you going to come down. The side of the Scribes and Pharisees who outwardly made it look like they gave their all to God or will you choose to be like the widow and really and truly give your all to God for him to use in whatever way he sees fit.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Numbers 8-9, Mark 13:14-37, Psalm 50:1-23 and Proverbs 10:29-30