Ye Devour Widows’ Houses

Matthew 23:14. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall recieve the greater damnation.”

The words that Jesus hurled at the scribes and Pharisees would be returned to Him in the form of scourging, of a crown of thorns, and of nails in His hands and feet.  He knew it.  He knew He was paving the road to Calvary with these condemning words, yet they were words that needed to be spoken.

They need to be spoken today, as well.  The outward forms of “religion” may have changed, but the heart of man does not change.  There are those who insist that if we’re going to reach today’s youth, we need to make the Bible more “in tune” with the times.  I submit to you that there is no more timely Book in history than the Bible.  It speaks to the root of the problem:  The human heart, which is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9).  This is not the first era in history in which people seem to be turning away from God.  If He tarries, it won’t be the last.  Our job is not to entertain or be like the world in order to win the world.  Our job is to lift up Jesus.

Ye devour widows’ houses: A widow in Israel was most unfortunate unless her husband had left her financially secure.  She had to depend on her family for her subsistence, and she was shown no mercy in the paying of temple fees and other taxes.  If she had no money to pay the temple tribute, then her house could be taken away by the High Priest.

Ye make long prayer: Boy, do I remember some people like this.  They could really pray, you know?  Sonorous voices, rolling phrases, lengthy petitions and, often, sermons were included in the “prayer.”  I remember, as a very small girl, attending prayer meeting with my parents.  Children stayed in the service with the adults, and were expected to be quiet and to listen. When the prayer time started, people would stand to pray. Often, their prayers were heartfelt, humble, and would bring me to tears as they poured their hearts out to God.  Then there were the others, who rambled on and on and never really got anywhere.  I remember, one time, Dr. Clearwaters (pastor of Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis), interrupting the one who was praying by saying, “Amen, Brother Suchandso, amen. Thank you,  And now we’re going to sing “God Be With You ’til we Meet Again.”

I could hardly contain my giggles.  I was delighted to know I wasn’t the only one who was bored brainless by the longwinded prayer.

There’s a joke that made the rounds some time ago, about a little girl who had to listen to a verbose prayer.  When it was over, she said out loud, “Help, Lord!”  Which is really all we need to say, sometimes.

Greater damnation:  You scribes and Pharisees will receive a greater damnation than those over whom you rule with such an iron hand.

Jesus really had a way with words, didn’t He?


Mathew 23:13. “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

There are eight woes spoken in this chapter. This first one uncovers the hearts of the Pharisees, much to their chagrin.  Jesus is building up their case against Him, at this point, with just about every word He speaks.

Here, He tells them that they have willfully  shut their eyes and turned away from the light of the gospel. Not only did they refuse to enter into the kingdom of heaven, but they warned others away as well. Their teachings, based on tradition, were far more precious to them than the offer of the Messiah, Who had come to fulfill the law and, by doing so,  to set it aside and replace it with the grace of salvation.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Forgiveness is NOT. . . .

We have some very strange ideas about what forgiveness really is.  One of those ideas is, when someone says “sorry,” to reply with, “Oh, that’s okay, it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it.”  That is not forgiveness.  It is simply brushing the problem under the carpet. The only result that comes from doing so is to get a very lumpy carpet.

The truth is, it DOES matter if someone has hurt you.  It matters if you are offended, and especially if the person who hurt you has come with a heartfelt apology, that apology needs to be treated with the respect it deserves.  So let’s talk about apologies for just a moment.

Here are some really poor apologies:  “IF I hurt you, then I apologize.”  This is a poor apology because it isn’t sincere. The offender is actually putting the blame back on you; if you are offended, it wasn’t really his fault but he’ll say “sorry”  so he’ll look better.  And he’s really making sure you understand that he hasn’t done anything wrong.  You’re just overly sensitive.

Here’s one of my favorites, issued in the Rose Garden by Mr. Clinton: “Mistakes were made. . . .”  This is a classic.  It was given in the passive voice, There really isn’t a subject here.  Nothing is receiving the action of the verb, the doer is  not specifically named, and it wasn’t sin; it was just a mistake. He should have said, at the very least, “I have done wrong. Please forgive me.”  It is a mistake to enter a number incorrectly into the checkbook.  It is a mistake to mismeasure an ingredient in a recipe. It is SIN to deliberately choose to  have sexual contact with a woman to whom one is not married. It is a SIN to lie about it; and it is cowardly to phrase an “apology” in such vague terms that no one has any clear idea what actually happened, or what is being said.

These are not apologies. They are sorry excuses that allow us to refuse to accept responsibility for what we have done.

Now, back to that “It’s okay, don’t worry about it” thing. What’s wrong with that?  Well, for one thing, you aren’t telling the truth.  It is not okay when we’re offended.  It’s not okay to be insulted. And it’s not okay to pretend that everything’s okay when it isn’t.  The correct response is something like this:

“Well, I appreciate that.  It means a lot that you care enough to make things right.  Of course I forgive you. Thank you for clearing this up.”

If you had a part in creating the problem, you need to acknowledge it and, if necessary, seek forgiveness yourself.  Here’s a good example:

“Susie, I offended you yesterday when I said abcdefg.  I’m so sorry.  I shouldn’t have said it, and  I feel terrible about it. It was wrong of me. Can you forgive me?”

“Martha, I really was hurt. I’m so glad you  cared enough to make this right. I value our friendship, and of course I forgive you. Thank you.”

There. Done. No equivocating, no lying, no blaming or excusing or dodging.

Next week, two more things forgiveness is not.

Whosoever Exalts Himself. . . .

Matthew 23:8-12. “But be not ye called Rabbi: for One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for One is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for One is your Master, even Christ. But  he that is greatest among you shall be  your servant, And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”

If the Pharisees had not been foaming at the mouth before, they surely were after these pointed words. In just a few seconds, Jesus reduced the pompous, self-important leaders of the day to the same level as all other Jews, including the lowly ones that they so scorned. “All of you are brethren, and there is only One Teacher!”

No man is better than another.  No man who exalts himself deserves the praise and worship of others. In fact, Jesus made it clear that the ones who choose to humble themselves will be the leaders, and the self-important will be reduced to servanthood.

Does this teaching apply to Christians today?  Well, of course!  Don’t we all know of those who have  exalted themselves as spiritual leaders when in actuality they are seeking only the praise of men?  Don’t we know of humble men who have never put themselves forward, yet they are praised and respected for their humility and their walk with God? Don’t we all know of mighty church leaders who have come crashing down because of sexual sin?  Why do we think it was only the Jews, only the Pharisees, that Jesus was warning? Surely we fool ourselves if we think we are exempt.

In I Peter 5:6-7, we are commanded to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He might exalt us at the proper time. Notice that we are not told to ask God to humble us; we are to choose to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. Only when we voluntarily humble ourselves, knowing what we are and Who He is, can we hope to be rewarded by God in due time.

Rabbi, Rabbi

Matthew 23: 6-7. “And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.”

Jesus wasted no effort to be tactful, politically correct, or accommodating to the tender egos of the Pharisees. He called them out for exactly what they were:  Men who loved the high places of honor, and to be called “Rabb, Rabbi” with great respect and adulation as they passed by the people in the streets.

Here are a couple of explanations I copied from the website noted:

(6) The uppermost rooms.—Better, the first places, the word “room,” which had that meaning at the time when the English version was made, having now become identical with “chamber.” Strictly speaking, they would be the first places, nearest to the host, on the couches or ottomans (as we have learnt to call them from their modern Eastern use) on which the guests reclined, these being assigned (as in the case of “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” in John 13:23) to the most favoured guests.

The chief seats in the synagogues.—These were at the upper or Jerusalem end of the synagogue (corresponding to the east end of most Christian churches), where was the ark, or chest that contained the Law. These were given, either by common consent or by the elders of the synagogue, to those who were most conspicuous for their devotion to the Law, and as such, were coveted as a mark of religious reputation.

taken from

To be called Rabbi was a mark of high honor, and acknowledgement of the teacher’s learning, wisdom, and spiritual superiority.  Sometimes, the term Abba (Father) was used as a mark of even higher respect.

I have been a teacher.  I understand feeling good about being able to say, “I’m a teacher,” or now, “I’m a counselor.”  Maybe even, “I’m a writer.”  When you work hard to accomplish something, it’s nice to have it recognized.  But Jesus was saying that these Pharisees loved, craved, sought recognition; lived for the honor of having the best places at the feasts, the most important seats in the synagogue. There was nothing of humility in them, because they loved themselves more than they loved God.

Phylacteries and Fringes

Matthew 23:5. “But all their works they do for to be seen of men:  they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.”

As Jesus continued His scathing indictment of the Pharisees, He made reference to their penchant for outward display, done only to be seen of men. Their first love was not God, but the praise of men and the high places of leadership.

So what on earth are phylacteries and borders? 

Phylacteries were used as observatories; that is, as reminders of the Law. In different parts of the Pentateuch, we read these words, “And thou shalt bind these words for a sign on thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between tine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates” Exodus 13:9-16, etc.).Orthodox Jews today write these words on a piece of parchment, enclose them in a tin box, and nail the box to their door posts. Tephillin, another form of phylactery,  are two strips of leather to each of which is attached a small box; in these boxes are pieces of parchment  with the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:4-8. One leather strip with this box is wound around the forehead, the box resting in the middle of the forehead, while the second strip is wound around the left arm, which is nearest to the heart.

Over the years, much ado has been made of these phylacteries and tephillin. It is even said in some Jewish writings that they keep demons from the home if they are worn at all times.

The enlarged borders were simply fringes, as shown in the first illustration.  The longer these fringes, the more ostentatious the wearer.  Long fringes were a sign of importance and authority.  The broad phylacteries were noticeable and drew attention to the wearer. Both of these symbols had been used by the Pharisees to establish hierarchy, and Jesus scorned them for exactly what they were:  Pride. Nothing more, nothing less.

Heavy Burdens

Matthew  23:4. “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”

Last  week we started this passage, hearing Jesus tell the people to listen to the words the Pharisees spoke according to the law of Moses, but not to emulate them in their works because they do not practice what they preach.

This verse today describes perfectly the corrupt rulers who burden the people but who avoid all burdens themselves.  They live instead on the backs of those they rule, having no intention of sharing the burden with them.

The Pharisees had placed themselves in Moses’ seat, and when their movement started they had great zeal for the law which God had given through Moses. In their Mishna,which was  part of the Talmud, they stated that they were to be regarded as having  been put in that place by Moses himself, and were to be obeyed. Period.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  When authority can never be questioned, authority becomes a rule unto itself. When that happens, when the ruler(s) get away with ignoring established law, then the people bear the burden of supporting those rulers.

Jesus told them to obey the law, as the Pharisees said; this was the part of His Law given to Moses and recorded in the five Books of the Law in the Old Testament.

But the behavior of the Pharisees?  No. The entire burden of keeping all the Law, including the nit-picking rules created by the Pharisees that God never ordained, was on the people. Oddly enough, there were always those who were willing to run to the authorities with tales of those who, knowingly or not, broke the man-made rules. Those poor victims of the tattle-tale system could actually be beaten, imprisoned, or fined in such an exhorbitant way that they actually became enslaved to the system.

The Pharisees would not lift a finger to change any of their ungodly rules, because the factions within Phariseeism were too busy competing with one another to be concerned about the burden that was laid upon the people.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Forgiveness, Part 5

Do I have to tell the person who hurt me that I have forgiven him?  I don’t ever want to see or talk to that person again. He’s scary, and although I’ve forgiven him, I want nothing more to do with him.

This is a “that depends” kind of question, and there is more than one answer.

Sometimes, the person we need to forgive is already dead. Perhaps it was an abusive or extremely critical parent that you have finally been able to forgive; however, that person is already gone, so there is no need to confront.

In some cases, your process of forgiving someone else is just between you and God. If you are convinced that telling a person you have forgiven him will do nothing but bring more pain down on you, then no, I don’t think you need to face that person.  Forgiveness, you’ll remember, is simply giving up your right to demand justice.  It does not require you to continue to be hurt by someone who is unrepentant and feels he has done nothing wrong. You can forgive from a safe distance.

I know of a situation in which the offended person did face her tormenter.  She told that person that she had come to a place of forgiving her, and wanted her to know that she held no malice. The guilty person, however, laughed until the tears flowed. “YOU have forgiven ME?”  she asked. “Oh, that’s rich. That’s really funny. I never did anything to you that you didn’t deserve. If  you hadn’t been such a twerp (yes, that’s the word she used)  you wouldn’t have gotten any trouble from me!”

Often, people who hurt us feel it was their right; in fact, they feel it was necessary. They believe they were justified in their words and actions, and have never felt a moment’s regret for anything. There’s not much future in trying to reconcile with that kind of attitude, and you’re probably far better off just to walk the path of forgiveness and keep it between you and God rather than to stir up another opportunity for the offender.

This is difficult if it’s someone you have to see often, such as a family member who lives nearby.  With time and patience, though, it can be done. I tell my clients that they don’t have to shut the person out of their lives, although the desire to do so may be strong. But clear boundaries can be established, and should be. When something starts between you, you can simply excuse yourself and refuse to participate.  You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.

If you have an overwhelmingly interfering parent, in-law, or sibling, you must draw strong boundaries and then be willing and able to enforce them.  If you don’t, the person will continue to be a thorn in your flesh. It is possible to calmly state that you do not choose to continue the conversation, and to walk away or hang up the phone.

If you do desire to continue a relationship with the person you are forgiving,  then you must be prepared to have to choose over and over to forgive and let go.  I think you probably should tell the person that you have forgiven her for past hurts.  If she is a reasonable person, such a statement can lead to a conversation that will reveal hurt on both sides, and can be restorative.

We are called, as followers of Christ, to reconciliation and restoration. We are to love others as we love ourselves, and we all do love ourselves.  Impossible to reconcile or restore?  The person is so toxic that you simply can’t allow him back into your life? Yes, that can be the case, but forgiving removes the poison from your heart and soul and makes it possible for you to have contact with him without being tied up in knots.

The person is unrepentant, won’t admit she’s ever done anything wrong? Fine. Forgive anyway, keep it between you and God, and get on with your life.

The most satisfying thing, of course, is when an offender comes to you seeking forgiveness and you are able to offer it freely.  That’s the ideal.  In my experience, it doesn’t happen that way very often, When it does, you need to treasure it and  be thankful, and enjoy an renewed relationship with someone who cares enough to take the first step toward restoration.

As I said at the beginning, this is not a question for which one answer fits all. Seek wisdom from God, but forgtive in your heart no matter what.

Next week, what forgiveness is not.

Ten Minutes

This was the daily prompt from this morning. It’s not a fun read, but I believe it is an important one.

Just Writing!

Ready, Set, Done

Today, write about anything — but you must write for exactly ten minutes, no more, no less.


Yesterday I had a conversation with someone about the difference between pure evil and “poor choices,” or “mistakes.”  This is one of my hot buttons.  I believe in the existence of evil.  My Bible says, in Jeremiah 17:9, that the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and that we can’t even know the capacity for wickedness that we all have.

Years ago, my pastor said that any Christian is capable of committing any sin; if you think about something long enough, you will do it.  At the time, I thought, “No, not ME!”  Now, I know he was right.

No one teaches a baby to be selfish.  No one teaches a toddler to throw a temper fit.  No one teaches a two-year-old to look at…

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Matthew 23:1- 3. “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”

What an indictment Jesus is laying on the scribes and Pharisees now!  He has already earned their hatred and condemnation, so He has nothing to lose, and His time is drawing near. In this dramatic scene, He literally turns away from the religious leaders of the day and excoriates them for their hypocrisy.  I suspect that He could already feel the scourge crashing down across His back. 

Jesus spoke to the people in plain words, telling them to obey what the Pharisees say, according to the Law; but not to do as the Pharisees do,  because they speak good words but do not act upon them.

This is indeed the purest form of hyocrisy.  And Jesus is just getting started.