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.”
Have you ever been in the presence of someone really, really important? I remember one time attending a campaign event in New Hampshire in the run up to a presidential primary. Several political big shots had crammed into a school cafeteria with all the requisite staff, press and random observers like me. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. So much power being wielded in the midst of a crowd interacting in tighter-than-usual personal space! The spectators and the stars were almost literally rubbing elbows.
We might assume all the candidates at that event had no aspirations outside the boundaries of selfless public service, but it probably wasn’t true. Some people do crave the attention, the respect, the deference to their inherent importance, the awe from others which they see as their just due.
Jesus wasn’t like that, but rather lowered himself intentionally to our level. When he saw the types that liked to be spiritual VIPs, he had nothing but harsh words. And he pointed out their hypocrisy.
They got attention merely by the way they dressed. Some clothing automatically looks more spiritual and they wanted people to see them in it. People saw them dressed in those long robes and reflexively gave them special greetings in the marketplaces. It was a wholehearted, full-eye-contact “Oh hello, sir!” not just a halfhearted “Hi.”
When they took their place of religious duty, it was a place of honor. If there was a feast, the host would be sure to seat them somewhere special, because of course he wanted everyone to see what kind of people came to his banquets – spiritual VIPs.
People like this can use their power to take advantage of others. The grieving widow might someday want to sign over some of her estate. Be sure to get into her good graces. Why even wait that long? Perhaps they would pull on her heartstrings now to lead her to give to their “charitable” cause.
Long prayers are often necessary, but there is no sense in the mind of this VIP to offer them only in private. Prayers are best offered in pretense, for all to see and hear, sufficiently clogged with spiritual vocabulary and run-on sentences. Who would ever believe that someone so pious could ever devour the house of a widow?
Many people will be condemned in the judgment, but these will receive greater condemnation. If there is such a thing as a hotter place in hell, it is reserved for the phony, self-focused, hypocritically spiritual VIP.