“And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:45-47)
Jesus has just humiliated the scribes. These are the academics of Israel, some are Pharisees, others are Sadducees, some are Essenes, ever sect had their scribes, those who were learned. It was a position of respect and honor. These men were often both theologians and lawyers, sometimes judges in the culture.
These positions come with dangers of which every pastor ought to be aware. It is rather easy to get an inflated ego, and succumb to the temptations of the world, to start caring more about the honor, prestige, and money then the word of God. One is reminded of the once famous book, “How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious.” The book was satire aimed at the pastoral office. But the satire had truth. Its suggestion of wearing on old suit rather than a new one while fly fishing, may have been a bit over the top, yet it has a bit of truth to it anyhow. I find it amazing how much a difference it makes just dressing the part. And though Jesus warns against wearing long robes, read here luxurious clothing, there is a fine line between dressing flamboyantly and dressing incompetently. Sometimes I think a guy could stand to read a couple GQ articles before entering the office. Simple things like black socks or dress socks with your suit. No white socking it. (I can’t stand dress socks though, my feet sweat too much.) A belt or suspenders with your pants, a cheap belt will do. A tie should reach your navel, but should not overlap your belt. You button two or one on your suit, the bottom button is there for show. If you are wearing short sleeves, leave the tie at home. If you can stand to wear a tie, you can stand to put on long sleeves. If it is too warm for long sleeves, it is too warm for a suit coat or sport jacket. But go get a copy of GQ, because the pictures that go with the article are better than then anything you will see on this blog. And while you are Wal-Mart picking that up, get a belt! GQ and Wal-Mart, would that they went together!
No seriously, I once had a Baptist reference this verse as to why Lutherans shouldn’t be wearing Albs. I laughed a little. Evidently the guy thought Jesus wore a suit. In like manner, I always do short prayers, it’s my pretense of actually listening to this verse. I think it is a better pretense then wearing a suit rather than a cassock or alb, because I hate long prayers. Pray for Fluffy your bunny rabbit on your own time kid, there is food to be eaten and it is getting cold. I really do work at being a Cretan when it comes to these things. Again, pretense, it is everything.
But seriously, all this aside, the pretense was to holiness, to a self made righteousness, and this is what Jesus is getting at. These men used it to devour the widows household, when they should have been looking after her welfare. The televangelist is a caricature of it, and it does work it seems. Money comes pouring in, but this is just the symptom of the problem. The laborer is still worth his wages. One should not muzzle an ox as it treads the grain. Jesus himself was supported off the kindness of others, and research indicates that he received much of his support from women. Likewise, the biggest financial contributors to the misogynist ministry of Paul were women, he is constantly thanking them. I will say this also about that, they seemed to have played many crucial roles in the early church, and the church is still unable to do without them. Bo Giertz biggest complaint about women’s ordination, is it would pigeon hole women wanting to serve the church into becoming pastors to the neglect of many other offices and tasks that they were then filling in the church of Sweden. And much of it came from this desire for honor and prestige that seems to cling naturally to the pastoral office even as it often tends to corrupt it.
Pastors have to remember the gospel is for them. It’s for them because they are sinners, possibly the worst of sinners. When we sin in our vocation as pastors, we play with the souls of men, sheep for whom Christ died. When we make a mistake in the application of law and gospel, we snuff out smoldering wicks. This is awful. I’ve been guilty of this. Our only hope is the gospel! Our only hope is the blood of Jesus Christ. Our sins are great! If you were to compare them these are much worse than the sins of the fornicators you turn away, the murderers and adulterers, the child molesters and mass murderers. We are to fear the one who can cast our soul into sheol, more than the one who can simply kill us. Yet being a pastor is all about souls and their fate. The office of the keys is not to be taken lightly. It’s dangerous work. Someone has to do it, and when they do they must realize fast their only hope is Christ. Yes, he died for you, that you might be forgiven these sins too. I think I need to hear my father confessor say that.