Jesus is in the temple teaching the people every day. It is the last week of Jesus’ life on the earth, his final days before his crucifixion. Jesus has stumped the Jewish leaders, asking a question from Psalm 110. How is Christ David’s son when David calls him “Lord?” The answer is that the Messiah is God. There is no other answer. The Messiah is more than human such that King David would call him “Master.” Jesus is not done with this group. Luke 20:45 tells us that Jesus is teaching in the hearing of all the people in the temple courts. He is preaching in front of his disciples. He is preaching in front of the crowds. He is preaching in front of these Jewish leaders who are looking for a way to have Jesus arrested and executed. Jesus is going to teach us about the necessity of serving from the heart rather than serving out of pretense or show.
Jesus begins with a warning. “Beware!” Watch out for the scribes! Watch what they are doing and do not be like them. What are the scribes doing? First, they like to walk around in long robes. They wear clothes to be noticed by people. They wanted people to know that they were religiously important. So they wore these expensive robes so that people who know who they were. We see this in the religious world today. We see the teachers wearing robes to set them apart from the rest of the Christians. We see cardinals wearing red robes, popes wearing special hats and long robes, fathers wearing white collars, pastors wearing outfits, and reverends wearing robes. Jesus condemns those who set themselves apart by their dress, trying to draw attention to themselves as someone important or someone spiritual. We can do the same thing and I find it just as disturbing. When we think that the preacher should wear a certain outfit or have certain clothes because he is the preacher, then we are falling into the same trap. Wearing a suit to make sure people know that you are the preacher is just as wrong as wearing robes, collars, or other outfits. Attention is to be drawn to God, his glory, and his word.
Second, they love formal greetings in the marketplaces. They want people to give them a special greeting rather than treating them like everyone else. So they would heap titles on themselves. We see the same problem in the religious world today again. People are called by titles rather than by name. People are called cardinal, father, reverend, priest, pastor, and the like. Again, we are not drawing attention to ourselves. Our attention is focused squarely on the Lord. You call me Brent. Just Brent and nothing more. I do not have a title. I have descriptions for what I do: evangelist, teacher, minister, servant, preacher. But these are not titles but descriptions of what I do. But I am not greater than you. I am not more important than you. There is nothing special about who I am or what I do. By God’s grace I am able to teach the gospel of Jesus. The only formal greeting that we see is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Third, they love the best seats in the synagogue and sat in the places of honor at the feast days. Luke addressed this issue earlier in Luke 11:43 as he taught about our need for humility in serving Jesus. Notice the consistent point that Jesus is making. We are not suppose to wear things that draw attention to ourselves. We are not to sit in a way that draws attention to ourselves. We are not to have people say things that set us apart from everyone else. The golden rule of the Law is to be applied: do to each other as you want people to do for you.
Fourth, they engaged in poor treatment of the needy. We are not told exactly what the scribes were doing to the widows’ homes so that Jesus could say that they are devouring them. It does not really matter. The point seems to be that rather than providing for them and taking care of them as the scriptures from the Old and the New Testaments teach, they were taking money from them. Rather than giving, they were taking. We see this in the religious world today. Those who are in need of help are often ripped off by people who claim to be teachers of God’s word. Our purpose is not to take from each other but to give to each other. God wants us to have a heart gives to others. When we see a need that we can fill, we are to give our money, give our time, give our possessions, give whatever it is that we see our brother or sister in Christ needing. How awful it is that churches have turned to being about the money rather than being about doing good for every person who is among us. Rather than a concern for the person and a concern for that person’s soul, so many are concerned about you giving money. Churches are about making money. Not only participating in fundraising efforts, but even charging for the gospel. I have seen churches charge money for sermon online or on CD. We are to pay the money to get the gospel, not charge people to listen to God’s good news! We will give you a Bible, not charge you for a Bible. We will give you study workbooks, not charge you for them. It is our responsibility to reach the world and not devour people’s goods and money in the process. It calls us to be wise stewards of the money you have entrusted to us so that the money is used to help God’s people and proclaim God’s good news in this community.
Fifth, the scribes are condemned for praying long prayers for appearances. Praying for show. Saying words so that people will think highly of us rather than simply talking to God. Prayer is talking to God. When we are led in prayers, there is no formula. There are not certain words that must be said. Prayer is a conversation with God. We do not say words so that people will think something of us by the way we pray. Just pray your heart. Don’t say what others have said in prayer unless that is what is on your heart. It is one of the great blessings of prayer: we get to speak in a open, heartfelt, raw way to God. As parents it is what we want our children to do. Tell us what is happening. Just tell us what you need or what is going on. God wants to know and hear what we have to say to him. What a blessing that God calls us to open, unedited, raw prayer.
Jesus says to not be like the scribes. Their condemnation will be great. Those who pretend to be God’s leaders and teachers but are all about themselves and what people think of them will be judged severely by our Lord.
As Jesus is teaching the crowds to not be like the scribes (one can imagine the scribes in the audience fuming and growing with anger as Jesus condemns them), Luke 21:1 tells us that Jesus sees the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. History tells us that there were 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles in the temple forecourt by the Court of the Women which served to collect the freewill offerings which helped pay the costs of the temple worship. Mark’s gospel tells us that they were putting in large sums of money into the offering box. But something catches Jesus’ eye. In verse 2 he sees a poor widow and notes that she puts into the offering two small copper coins. The Greek word describing the coin is lepton. This coin was worth about 1/128 of a day’s wage. To my calculations this makes the coin in our time worth about a dime. Practically nothing to us and it was nothing to them in terms of financial power. However, the widow is praised because she gave out of her poverty while the others gave out of their abundance.
The message Jesus is teaching is that the heart by which we give and serve matters to God. The amount is not the test. The reason is the test. Here are this rich people putting in their large gifts into the offering box. They are not condemned for it, but it is noted that they are giving from their abundance. The widow is special because she is giving out of her poverty. The “why” matters to God. We must ask the same question of ourselves. Why do we serve our Lord and others? Do we serve because we see this as a duty and requirement or is it our hearts’ desire because we love our Lord? Do we worship because we see worship as a duty and checklist that God demand of us or do we worship from our hearts’ desire because we love our Lord? Why do we give? Do we give because the basket is passed and we see it as our obligation to give? Or do we give from the heart, as a cheerful giver, whose cheerfulness is derived from our love for the Lord and all that he has done for us?
The widow is an excellent reminder for us that we do not simply give the leftover or excess to God. We often think of our giving in these terms. When I have extra time I will give God my time. When I have extra money I will give God my money. But we need to consider that it is not a sacrifice to our Lord if it is extra. If I have four cars and one of them sits in the yard and is never used and means very little to me, then it is not a sacrifice for me to let you use it or have it. Sacrifice does not come from our abundance. Sacrifice is the giving from our lack. The widow is an example of one who is rich toward God, not anxious about this life, but seeks first the kingdom of God. She is willing to give everything and leave everything for the Lord.
Authenticity versus showmanship. This is the contrast that Jesus is showing as he teaches the crowds in the temple complex. Is your worship as you sit here today from the heart or as a show because you feel obligated to be here? Is your service from the heart or so that others can see what you are doing? Is our giving from the heart, because we want to give back to our Lord and give to our brothers and sisters in Christ, or is our giving for show? The why matters to God. Nothing is to be done so that glory comes to ourselves. All glory is to be directed to God. All attention is to be given to him and not toward ourselves. Beware of the scribes! Do not be like them. Be like the widow who gave from heart, did not give to be seen, and gave from our poverty.