As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
No doubt there were a number of faithful, honest, and hardworking scribes in Jesus’ day, just as there are faithful, honest, and hardworking attorneys and politicians who don’t deserve the jokes and criticism that our culture has in recent years directed at them en masse.
At the same time, Jesus is clearly critiquing a group of persons who hold responsibility in the religious community. They abuse their positions, reaping status and privileges without executing the duties of their offices. Indeed, they masquerade as faithful while acting unfaithfully in the extreme.
For this reason, Jesus urges his followers to “beware” the scribes, that they may not fall victim to their schemes.
At the same time, I suspect that Jesus also urges his followers – now as much as then – to beware the scribes so that they do not fall into the same folly, the folly of self-delusion and self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. Because here’s the thing: we all want to feel special. We all want to believe that there is something about us, or something about our place in our home, company, or congregation that entitles us to special privileges.
Think of the number of well-paid persons who take office supplies home or chief executives that defraud their companies and customers. It’s simply astounding. Not astounding in terms of overall percentage – most employees and executives are faithful, honest, hardworking people. Rather, it’s astounding that we can justify taking a ream of paper or an unfair percentage of profits when we don’t need these things at all. Why, then, do we do it? Because we feel entitled. Or, more likely, because we want to feel entitled; we want, that is, to feel special.
Beware the scribes, Jesus says, and I think at one level he is inviting us to beware our own insecurity and need for affirmation. At the same time, however, he offers us the only antidote to insecurity known – acceptance. This is something that we cannot earn for ourselves, something that all the goodies we feel entitled to can never grant. Acceptance and love are gifts to be received, not trophies to be won.
Yet mark where we are in the story: Jesus is on his way to the cross precisely that we might know of God’s profound acceptance and love. Jesus will stretch his arms wide on those wood beams for no other reason than to demonstrate, embody, and extend God’s mercy, saying in word and deed, “You are accepted. You are loved. You are cherished. You are special.”
The question, I suppose, is whether we believe it
…and then can share it.
Prayer: Dear God, fashion us to be emissaries of your love, that trusting your grace we may share it with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.