Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Beware of the Scribes
38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
I recently came across a post on social media lauding a celebrity preacher for generously lending “one” of his private planes to help evacuate thousands of refugees from Afghanistan. I am not ashamed to say that my first instinct was not “Oh, what a great act of charity” but “Wait, how many planes does that guy have?” and quickly began to do a little online sleuthing. The first thing that jumped off the page regarding said preacher was that his estimated personal net worth is thought to be closer to $1 billion than $100 million. And not only does he have more than one airplane, but he has his own airport. And, oh by the way, his jet was not actually involved in evacuating thousands of refugees—it conveniently does not have room for more than 15 people—but in allowing a team from the US to visit with the evacuated refugees in an undisclosed middle eastern country. After the preacher bought one of his latest jets—with cash—he began a fundraising campaign for an additional $2.5 million for luxury upgrades and another $17 million for a new hangar. The preacher has publicly defended spending untold tens of millions of dollars on his personal aircraft by explaining that he is so popular that if he attempted to fly commercial, he would be constantly bombarded by the unwelcome prayer requests of those in his vast TV congregation.
Not only did Jesus take issue with what the scribes taught, but He also pointed out the inconsistencies between what they professed to believe and how they actually lived. By all appearances they lived perfectly holy lives, honoring the laws of God and man. They were dressed to the nines, popular in the market, and highly sought after dinner guests. But, as we all know well, appearances can be deceiving. Jesus knew that while they claimed to keep the Great commandments of loving God and loving others, a closer examination of their actions revealed that they cared little for anyone but themselves. When the scribes saw a vulnerable widow, they became as ravenous lions approaching wounded prey, sharks with blood in the water. They could not help but take advantage of every opportunity to help themselves at the expense of those who could least afford it.
Unsurprisingly, Jesus reveals that their attitudes toward God were no different. The lengthy prayers of the scribe were nothing but pretense, offered only to impress their undereducated audience. Common people who witnessed the wardrobe, wealth, and invocations of the scribes immediately assumed that these were truly men of God. The scribes were used to receiving the highest privileges and commendations, but Jesus insisted that what awaited them was great condemnation.
While the self-condemned religious leaders were busy welcoming their wealthy friends into the temple, Jesus pointed out to the disciples someone else approaching the offering box. A widow, reduced to living solely off of the generosity of strangers, and whose less-than-radiant dress stood in stark contrast to that of the scribes, removed two small copper coins from her bag and placed them in the box before proceeding on her way to worship. Since the coins amounted to nothing but pocket change for anyone else, no one else noticed her but Jesus. But unlike the wealthy, Jesus knew that she wasn’t just giving a token to the Lord. Their large donations were but a small percentage of an extravagant sum, her almost-nothing was in fact, everything. By every account, she could not afford to give what she gave, and had the temple rulers cared even a little bit, they would have stopped her in her tracks, cracked opened the box, and supplied her need from the treasury.
This passage reminds me of a pastor who shared about a family in his church that was going through a very difficult season. Although they didn’t share their dire need publicly, some very thoughtful friends within the congregation decided that they would raise funds for the family anonymously. Without naming any names or providing details, the church then sent an email generically explaining the need and asking its members to prayerfully consider contributing as they were able. After the donations were tallied, much to the surprise, and embarrassment, of those who organized the collection, the family that the money was being raised FOR were actually the largest donors to the fund that was to benefit THEM. When they heard about the need of within their family of faith, they gave above and beyond what anyone else would reasonably consider to be wise, with the intent of honoring the Lord even with what little they were able.
I’ll admit, it is pretty easy to highlight world famous prosperity preachers—their ostentatious lifestyles have made them especially low-hanging fruit—when reading the words of Jesus in regards to the scribes and Pharisees. But if that is all we think of when we hear this particular warning of Jesus, then we are the ones at risk of letting ourselves off the hook. Yes, it is true that the scribes and Pharisees loved to be “caught” doing Godly things and wanted people to associate their extravagant wealth with God’s explicit stamp of approval. But, if we are honest with ourselves, don’t we spend an awful lot of time chasing after the same things? Don’t we want people to think that we are holy—whether we actually are or not? And how many times have we ever turned down a raise or generous gift because we were concerned that we might have more than we truly needed, or were more concerned that our blessing might detract from others in a more desperate situation?
Jesus was not, and never did, claim that being wealthy was a grievous sin. But He spent much time explaining that defining our self-worth by what we have, or do not have, is tantamount to idolatry and spiritual adultery. The scribes had it all, but they actually had nothing. While the widow had nothing, but she gave God everything. Without faith God’s economy does not make any earthly sense. Forgiveness of sin costs us nothing, yet Jesus paid absolutely everything. And the new life that Jesus offers is indescribably priceless, yet it demands our complete and total devotion. Jesus explains that there is no such thing as half-hearted love. We must love Him with everything, because that is how He loves us.
Prayer for Today:
Gracious Father, it is so easy to read the warnings in Your Word and immediately think of others who need to heed the message, when the truth is that we all fall short. We have not loved You as we ought. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We often do not consider the needs of others before we make plans to satisfy our own desires. We are more close-handed than generous with our time, our talent, and our resources. Lord we ask that You would shine Your light into the dark and secret places of our hearts. Show us our sin, and overwhelm us with Your mercy. Grant us opportunities to give in abundance, just as You have given to us. May You enable us to be the generous friend and compassionate neighbor that You are to us. We pray this in the priceless name of Jesus, our Savior and Friend. Amen.