And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
In other words, the scribes’ brand of religion wasn’t what Jesus was talking about when He said the greatest commandment is for us to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Doing that doesn’t produce the selfishness and self-righteousness that marked the Pharisees. It doesn’t produce hurting others to get our own way and have our place. It’s not about rising to the top and having the best for ourselves, having the praise of men, and merely appearing to be religious.
It’s nothing as empty as that. It’s not as marginal as that. No, the kind of life Jesus was referring to was not demonstrated by the Pharisees, but by the poor widow woman who gave all she had to God with no regard for herself. What Jesus is talking about are people willing to set themselves aside and to follow God completely—to honor and obey Him, to hold nothing back, and to orient every part of their lives toward God and His Word and His will.
Jesus had only a few years to walk with His disciples, and the kinds of things He was teaching them ran counter in so many ways to the prevailing culture of the day. He tried to warn them as much as He could what to be on guard against. He modeled the kind of life He wanted them to emulate. And in His teaching, He sought to undo the distorted version of following God that was prevalent among the religious leaders of the day. Jesus wanted more than this kind of outcome for those He called to follow Him.
Our society is really not that much different. People today are still trying to get whatever they can for themselves. People are trying to rise to the top no matter who they have to step on. And sadly, even within Christianity there is a watered-down faith that only looks kind of religious on the outside but lacks the true heart of what God wants from us. But may we be willing to be different. May we go against the grain and follow Jesus wholeheartedly and unashamedly. May we truly live the kind of life that comes from loving God with all of us and loving others in tangible ways.