August 5

Text: Matthew 23:14

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.”  (NASB)

The oldest known manuscripts do not contain this statement.  It is for this reason that some English translations either do not contain the verse or note it is not in the earliest manuscripts.  The reasons for the exclusion or notes have nothing to do with the validity of the criticism (consider Mark 12:38-40).

Jesus’ criticism has to do with misrepresenting the purpose of religious acts.  Is doing a religious act a matter of giving appreciative praise to God or a matter of seeking to blind God to deliberate evil by distraction?  Is the purpose of obedience to express appreciation for blessings, or is the purpose an attempt to “cover ourselves” when we knowingly, purposefully do evil?

The specific example Jesus used was this: taking advantage of the helpless while also praying a long prayer (presumably in the synagogue or a temple courtyard) to generate the impression that “I am a very religious person who wrongs no one.” 

In the man’s world of first century Israel, no one was more defenseless than a widow.  She often had no male to plead her cause.  Typically, an Israelite woman had little or no experience in the “real world”.  Thus, an Israelite widow was easy to deceive regarding real estate matters.  Often she found the combination of need and ignorance disastrous!

This was not God’s intent!  Examine Exodus 22:21-24, Leviticus 19:9, 10 and 23:22, Deuteronomy 14:28, 29 and 15:1-11 and 16:9-11 and 24:17-22, with Ruth 2:1-3 and Jeremiah 7:5-7.  Note God had (has) deep regard for how the righteous treat the poor with specific mention of the widow.

No expert in Jewish scripture (the Old Testament) could doubt how God felt about poor widows!  To establish as principle the idea that one could act unjustly and hide the injustice with a religious act insulted God!  God does not ignore one’s deliberate evil because the person performs a religious act!

Suggestion for reflection: Does God’s watchfulness end injustice and poverty now?  (Read James 1:27.)

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