Thursday, February 1, 2018

Big problems among the Scribes, as Jesus points out

After Jesus answers some questions meant to entrap him, we get this bit:

45 Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples,
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 20:45-47)

What exactly is Jesus saying here?

He’s warning the disciples to beware of the scribes who do certain things. It seems to me He’s not telling the disciples to shun them necessarily, but to beware of becoming like them.

So what exactly is wrong with this behavior, and are there modern equivalents that must be avoided?

They desire to walk in long robes – Long robes are not easy to move in, and they get dirty easy. I get the impression that long robes were a sign of status, and hard work was not done in them. People in long robes don’t gird up their loins to serve others; they are usually the ones being served. The modern equivalent might be people who desire to wear suits all day.

They love greetings in the markets – This seems pretty benign at first. Who doesn’t love to run into friends at the market? The problem, I think, is when it becomes a point of pride, when one preens over one’s connectedness and how all those greetings by all one’s acquaintances lead one to say, “Look how important I am! Everyone knows me and loves me! Even people who don’t know me can see I must be special because of all the people who greet me!” It is hard to focus on others, when others are so focused on you.

They love the highest seats in the synagogues and the chief rooms at feasts – High seats in the synagogue are probably leadership seats. They love the best places and aspire to importance and status. They love the visibility more than the opportunity to serve.

They devour widows’ houses – Here’s a sad thing. These scribes will visit widows (thinking they are charitably bestowing their attention and encouraging presence) and then the widows are obligated by the rules of hospitality to feed them a big fancy dinner, so the widows have to spend beyond their means to do it, and of course, those scribes have to do justice to the spread, so they eat it all, and thus the widow is far worse off financially after the scribe’s visit than she was before. The scribe is devouring her house. And she lives at poverty level, anyway, so it is all very bad for her finances. At bottom, this is a lack of awareness of how hospitality is going to affect one’s host. It is inconsiderate, and a lack of charity. If these scribes had any real charity, they would host the widow and not obligate the widow to host them. Or they’d bring a nice big present of grain or something to make up for the burden of their visit.

For a show, they make long prayers – Their prayers aren’t doing them any good if it just a show to impress other people. If there is no real desire or repentance or gratitude behind the words, the prayers mean nothing.

The thing that is the greatest warning is that Jesus says, “the same shall receive the greater damnation.” To me, this is saying these characteristics get disciples more spiritually stuck and stop progression more than some others.

To summarize:

Long robes >> status clothing that precludes service and work
Loving greetings >> status and such connectedness that prevents one from forgetting oneself and focusing on others
Loving high seats and the best rooms at feasts >> obsessed with public shows of status at religious events and gatherings. Preoccupation with position and visibility more than opportunities for service and ministering.
Devouring widow’s houses >> Lack of consideration and charity for those who really need it. Making a show of attention that doesn’t really help and leaves the widow worse off afterward.
Making long prayers for show >> Desire to look holy has overcome any desire to actually be holy.

So, the pattern I see here is that status and show for these scribes has become the most important thing, such that they completely miss the increased opportunities for service and charity and ministering that come with a leadership position. They are stopped in their spiritual progress from becoming more like Christ.

Can we draw any conclusions from what one should do instead?
1)    Wear clothes you can help people in
2)    Focus on others and appreciate the humility of anonymity
3)    Care more for the opportunities to serve than position, status, or visibility
4)    Find ways to give notice and charity without taxing others’ resources to give hospitality
5)    Pray with sincerity

These things tell us that Jesus was strongly aware that if leaders weren’t careful, some of the earthly advantages of status created awful spiritual disadvantages with eternal negative consequences. He wanted His disciples to be aware of those problems and do all they could to avoid those behaviors and attitudes so that their position could be a real blessing to them and to all those around them.