“They devour the houses of widows”

Beware of the scribes, Jesus warns us in Mark 12: 38-40.

In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

In another similar but still slightly different version, the Bible says:

“Be on guard against the scribes, who like to parade around in their robes
and accept marks of respect in public,
front seats in the synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
These men devour the savings of widows and
recite long prayers for appearance sake.
It is they who will receive the severest sentence.”

In Jesus’ time, the scribes were often priests or educated men who kept track of Jewish law and temple proceedings, a part of the Pharisees. Today, they might be the priests and laity of the Catholic or Protestant churches who maintain Church canon and dogma. They might also be TV preachers.

What pops out at me is the pretense that Jesus calls these men out for: Parading around in their robes. Accepting greetings or marks of respect in the marketplaces or pubic, plus taking seats of honor and in synagogues, places of honor at banquets. Devouring the houses or the savings of widows. Reciting lengthy or long prayers for appearance sake.

While there are many humble priests and preachers, ministers and pastors today, who has seen a televangelist who wears a thread-bare suit, drives an inexpensive car, lives in a modest home, or forgets to command viewers to give donations – even from widows, the poor, and the elderly – every one of them preaching lengthy prayers as a pretense?  When appearing in a group, they make a fine show of comradely support with great marks of public respect. It’s a fine show.

Not to pick on televangelists. You can see it in other church leaders, too. The higher up the chain of church command the more like modern-day Pharisees as Jesus describes these priests and bishops seem to be. They like their seats and places of honor at banquets. They accept their special collections that devour the savings of widows. Some bishops have been known to spend amazing amounts of money to “upgrade” their lavish vacation villas, and some preachers have been known to ask their congregations for multi-million-dollar jets. And, of course, they repay their donors with lavish prayers.

Beware the scribes indeed. Beware the overly pious, the overly righteous, the overly observant of the law who have one hand in The Good Book and the other in your pocket. For the scribes can be not only priests and preachers and bishops but also any who judge and condemn others without ever knowing a thing about those they condemn. They, too, parade around in their fine robes of piety and self-righteousness. They, too, accept greetings or marks of respect in the modern public square, plus take seats of honor in churches and at feasts. Many devour the houses or the savings of widows. Most recite lengthy prayers or short scripture passages for appearance sake. Beware these “religious” whom Jesus called vipers.




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