Mark 12:38-40 and Jesus’ tough words of warning against the teachers of the Law.
The tension between Jesus and the Jewish authorities has been bubbling away all through this chapter – and not under the surface. Here Jesus gets explicit in his blunt criticism of the teachers of the law.
Scribes would have worn distinctive white long robes and been venerated as men of the Law. People would have risen when a Scribe passed by, they were treated with huge respect and given titles like Rabbi, Master or Father. It was an honour to have one at a banquet and prominent seats were reserved for them in the Synagogues.
As we’ve been reminded in the posts on One.Life, Jesus’ passion for justice lies at the heart of his preaching on the kingdom of God.
It so it is injustice that provokes this severe warning. The widows reference is probably about the unpaid scribes being dependent on gift income and taking advantage of widows hospitality and resources.
Comment: It is very hard to read this passage in an Irish context and not make a link to the abuse of religious power in this country. Where men were venerated and given untold respect and status. And where so many of those men used that position of trust and power for selfish and abusive purposes, taking advantage of the weak and vulnerable, and all the time being seen as models of piety.
One thing is clear – according to Jesus, such actions lead to severe punishment. God’s justice includes judgement.
But it is also hard to read this text and not feel Jesus’ call for integrity and authenticity in ministry. Those called to positions of leadership and public ministry need prayer: for honesty and humility and accountability along with a passion to serve God and others rather than themselves.
Warning Against the Teachers of the Law
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”