Summary: Don’t hire Jesus to be a fundraiser; he just doesn’t seem to have good money sense.
One of the characteristics that makes our country great, as seen in the recent tragedy, is the pleasure people take in giving to worthy causes. People like contributing to something that makes a positive difference. Good fundraisers know this; that is why most of them feel good about what they do. They are the links that funnel giving to worthwhile causes and projects, and that feels good.
As in all professions, there are bad fundraisers. Bad, not in the sense they can’t raise money, but they either raise money for unworthy causes or they manipulate donors to give either more than they should or draw the donors away from other causes more meaningful for them.
Good or bad, all effective fundraisers would agree – don’t hire Jesus to be a fundraiser or a money manager. As we shall see, he just doesn’t seem to have good money sense.
38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law...”
We need to review who the teachers of the law are. “Scribe” is the more literal rendering of the Greek term used, and is used in other translations, but it does not convey the role of such a person as well as “teacher of the law.” The term means “writer,” and initially scribes were clerks who wrote up legal documents, as well as copied documents and manuscripts. Over time scribes became more than secretaries; they became the interpreters of the documents as well, lawyers and advisors. They certainly played an increasingly important role in Israel as the preservers and interpreters of the Scriptures.
Ezra, a contemporary of Nehemiah, is the “father and model of scribes.” A priest, he lived in Babylonia, evidently in service to King Artaxerxes. He was sent by Artaxerxes to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand (Ezra 7:14). He visited then, the Jews, who had returned from exile to their homeland. He was appalled at the lax regard that the priests and people showed for the Law of God. On several occasions he organized public readings and teachings of the Law, which led to mass repentance and revival. As David was the exemplar for all future kings, so Ezra was exemplar for all future scribes. The description given of him became the description of honor that all who followed in his steps desired: 10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel (Ezra 7:10).
Thus the scribes evolved from mere clerks to highly respected teachers. In Jesus’ day, they were the rabbis who taught the people and the scholars devoted to studying the Scriptures. Truly, theirs is an honorable and holy calling. I think so, anyhow, because I am one of them. Their task is mine: to devote myself to the study and observance of God’s Word and to teach its full message in the church. They are my people. That is why I cringe when I read Jesus’ harsh words. But he said them, and I have to teach them.
What does Jesus bring up about them? Basically that they have fallen prey to pride. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.
These “flowing robes” were long mantels of white linen with wide fringes at the bottom that distinguished distinctive persons. They visually set the teachers apart from the ordinary ass. It would be common for a teacher to walk through the marketplace in his flowing robe, and the retailers and others stop what they are doing to give a respectful greeting, just as if a high official or famous star walked through the mall where we are shopping and we give them notice. In the synagogue, the teacher was invited to sit in the chair in front of the chest containing the Torah. Regarding “places of honor at banquets,” William Lane notes: “When the important men of Jerusalem gave a feast they considered it an ornament to the feast to have a distinguished scribe and his pupils there. The highest places were assigned to them, and the scribe was given precedence in honor over the aged, and even over parents.”
And the teachers loved every bit of it! I would. It is gratifying to be recognized as someone important, to have people give respectful attention. It is satisfying to the ego to attend a gathering put on by wealthy and “important” people and then be especially recognized by the host.
But, as Jesus points out, it is silly and sinful pride to desire such attention, especially consider that all the fanfare is nothing more than a superficial game. Lane is right calling the teachers ornaments at the banquets. The respect given to these men is often nothing more than role playing, just as it is today. Even so, the teachers love their part. As Jesus points out, they for a show make lengthy prayers. Aren’t long prayers the sign of being holy? Not only would the prayers be long, but be assured that they were elaborate and eloquent, designed to impress the hearers. And of course, they are given many opportunities. Who else to ask the blessing at a banquet than the honored rabbi? Who better to pray at the synagogue? When it comes to praying at a social gathering, ministers are considered as indispensable as doctors should someone become ill. “Is there a minister in the house who can bless the food?”