Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Beware of Hungry Scribes

46 Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts;
47 Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation. (Luke 20:46-47)
Here’s a scripture that stuck out to me today and for some reason I found myself focusing on that phrase “which devour widows’ houses”. I find this phrase to be puzzling. It can’t be literal, unless widows have houses made out of foodstuff. (Gingerbread houses? Naaahhhhhhh.)

I think these widows are the poor ones who have troubles making ends meet, who have to glean the fields for leftover grain. There’s not much food in their houses. And then imagine the scribes, those learned, prestigious men, suddenly dropping by to visit these women. They come by in their long robes with their enormous phylacteries to show how gracious and kind they are. The widows are honored, oh so honored to have such a learned great man in the house. The scribe must be given the best treatment possible. She must do her best to be hospitable. She must rise to the occasion. “Oh, won’t you please stay to dinner?” There’s eagerness in the widow’s voice. The scribe doesn’t refuse. The widow goes to her meager pantry. She wants to give the great man the best meal she can, so she cooks everything. A week’s worth of rations is set on the table. The scribe makes a long prayer over the food before eating. And then he eats. The scribe has a big appetite, conditioned as he is to sumptuous meals. He eats several very large portions more than usual to show his appreciation for the widow’s hospitality. He leaves with a kind word. The widow then looks at the table and cries, wondering how she will feed herself for the next week.

I think Jesus may have been trying to point out the scribes' concern for politeness and show and prestige, and their lack of actual charity. Maybe they failed to notice that they were beggaring those they were supposed to help. Or maybe they did know and they liked their prestige better.

I think this is a good lesson about not imposing on others. It’s about being careful not to put people who are less well-off in the financially difficult position of having to pay for you or entertain you when they really can’t afford it. They will do it out of politeness, but if we allow them to do it when they really can’t afford it, we are being uncharitable. Having charity is having consideration for the whole picture of how it is going to affect others after the big bash is over. Maybe it’s better to turn the tables and invite them to our house instead.
12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)
Hmmmm. I'm thinking about who I can invite. Who will you invite?