Mark 12:38-40 Beware!
This is the third consecutive pericope in Mark where the scribes are mentioned. In 12:28-36, a scribe questions Jesus. Then in 12:35-37, Jesus takes issue with scribal interpretation of a Psalm. And finally here, we are told to “Beware of the scribes” (v. 38).
Why? The scribes love their long robes, greetings in the market places and the best seats at religious gatherings (v. 39). In short, they loved recognition and the honor of men (human beings). In contrast to their public persona, they “devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (v. 40). Jesus points out hypocrisy in their action and internal life (what is really in their heart), in comparison to their image as pious religious greats ones. It would appear that the scribes are no better than the Pharisees back in chapter 7. Jesus loves and accepts the sinner, but judges the religious ~ especially because of their hypocrisy (see Cole, TNTC on v. 40). Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes couldn’t be more clear:
“They will receive the greater condemnation.” – Jesus (Mark 12:40)
For the twelve standing by watching this, Jesus shows what it means to truly align one’s heart with God the Father. For the crowds, long looked down on, and taken advantage of by the religious elite, this was a welcome message.
For us today, especially those who find ourselves in the system of modern/post-modern North American Evangelicalism, we might want to put ourselves in the shoes of the scribes here. How long we have made ourselves the self-appointed moral guardians of society. We have turned Jesus’ message of love, acceptance and restoration to right relationship to God into a religion of behavior modification. For too long we have used Christianity as a crutch to makes ourselves feel better because, clearly we are better than those people (go ahead, fill in the blank with whatever you like: gays, democrats, Catholics, drug addicts, sex workers, gang bangers, pornographers, homeless men, loose women, rappers…).
Wherever you find yourself in this story, the question remains, how do I align myself with the heart of God. How can I care for the widow and the orphan in my neighborhood? What is my prayer life like when no one is looking (not when you’re speaking at a local community event on the National Day of Prayer). What if I cared less about what my clothes said about me and more about ensuring that the homeless guy under the bridge has a warm winter coat and a good down sleeping bag (if not a roof over her head, at least for tonight). What if we spent less time judging the hearts of others, and put more effort into transforming our homes into places of hospitality so welcoming, so loving, so accepting that your neighbors can’t wait ’til the next bonfire!
What if following Jesus means aligning our hearts with the heart of God who loves all people and desires a full vibrant restored relationship with them (His precious children)?