Jesus and His disciples returned to Jerusalem the next day after clearing the money changers from the temple complex and severely rebuking the hypocrisy of Israel’s spiritual leaders. Unsurprisingly, Israel's spiritual leaders wanted some answers and were eager to confront Jesus:
Mark 11:27-28 They came again to Jerusalem. As He was walking in the temple complex, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came and asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority to do these things?
Jesus then used a parable to convey God’s displeasure with their administration of the nation’s relationship with God the Father. The religious leaders clearly got Jesus’ point…and begin to plan Jesus’ demise.
Mark 12:12 Because they knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a ways to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd. So they left Him and went away.
Other portions of the religious establishment were then sent to challenge Jesus:
Mark 12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said.
Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and questioned Him
After rebuffing all their questions with wise answers that both amazed and delighted the crowd gathered to watch the dialogue, Jesus stopped to give them all a warning.
Mark 12:38-40 He also said in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the market-places, the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher punishment.”
The scribes were members of the learned class, with responsibilities for studying the Hebrew Scriptures. They also served as copyists, editors, teachers, and jurists. They were held in high regard, and as such, they were also prone to holding themselves in high regard.
Jesus gave a specific list of actions that would help the crowd identify scribes to be wary of. Their actions betrayed the heart’s true desire – to be given honor, rather than giving honor to God.
It’s the last identifier that I find rather interesting – the scribes would say long prayers just for show. Their words were for those around them, in order that they would be noticed and highly regarded. They would go on and on in great spiritual-sounding dialogue…and yet their target audience was only those physically around them.
We would be wise to consider the prayers of the spiritual leaders around us. When you hear them pray, see if you can identify whom they are talking to…are they talking to God, or are they talking to you? Are they praying for God’s will or just communicating information with their eyes closed?
Don’t forget to do a self-evaluation as well. If my prayer habits and phrases are different when I pray by myself vs. when I pray around others, then it would be a good idea to speak to God privately about the matter. Ask His forgiveness and for instruction on how to pray to Him when other people are around.
The last thing we want is to end up like the self-seeking scribes, because after all, their choices eventually led them to receive harsher punishment. God has a long track record of severely correcting those who misrepresent Him in the manner which the scribes were doing.
Let’s beware leaders who act like that, and also make sure that we don’t act like that either. As Jesus pointed out, a good litmus test to evaluate the purpose of our hearts is to listen to what is said in public prayers.