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The Warning Concerning the Scribes

Mark 12.38-40
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
In this section Jesus does not pull any punches with regards to the religious groups, such as the scribes in this instance. Jesus has had His run-ins with different religious groups practically all of chapter 12. In this instance He calls out the scribes for how they like to be seen and admired by the people and for being so religious, but Jesus also reveals a darker side to these men. “Sure,” He says, “you like to be seen being religious and experience all of the accolades that go with the job. But deep down that is not actually your heart.” They have a heart problem, and while Jesus never actually explicitly says it, this is what He means.

He exposes their pride and their demand for attention from the people. The long flowing robes that they wore in the marketplace led people to believe that they were of high importance, so people would single them out and show great respect to them. The important seats in the synagogue and places of honor at banquets were also reflections of their social status in the ancient world. Jesus also calls them out for devouring widows’ houses, which dealt with the fact that the scribes were taking advantage of widows. Widows were some of the most vulnerable people within their society.

Theologian Grant Osborne points out, “Often they trusted their dowries and other worldly goods to these community leaders, and all too often the scribes took advantage of them. There have been many suggestions about how. They could have taken advantage of a widow’s hospitality, defrauded her of funds entrusted to them, seized her home when she could not pay her debts, or charged her for legal advice or for offering prayers on her behalf.” [1]

Jesus would have been repulsed by any one of these instances, hence why He calls them out. The scribes here had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof. Friends, it is important for us as well to not just have a form of godliness but to be changing more into the image of Christ all the time. This is absolutely important; for the end of verse 40 should not only be a strong warning for the scribes but for us as well: “They will receive the greater condemnation.” Let us, as believers and leaders within the church, make sure that our hearts are right before the Lord and that our service is unto the Lord and not to man.

In Christ’s Service,
Cody Ragland

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Mark, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 226.
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