Summary: Religion goes bad when our lives are not marked by genuine humility and heartfelt generosity.
Title: Religion Gone Bad
Text: Mark 12:38-44
Thesis: Religion goes bad when God is not the object of our devotion.
Introduction (Disclaimer… this introduction may not be for the faint of heart.)
I am fascinated by some of the reality programming on the Discovery Channel. One of the programs I enjoy is a reality program set in Alaska. Alaska: The Last Frontier is a reality show about the Kilcher family who live on 638 acres of land that has been home to the clan for three generations. They live off-the-grid so the show is largely about how the Kilcher family survives in that harsh place.
They have a small herd of cattle and raise sufficient prairie grass to feed them throughout the winter. They raise huge gardens. They raise chickens. They hunt and they fish. Nothing goes to waste.
On a recent episode it was time for the salmon run so the family took their net to the bay where they would set the net at low tide, wait for high tide and the running of the fish. When they arrived they found a dead fish on the beach that had gotten caught in a little tide pool when the tide went out. The Kilcher patriarch picked the fish up, looked it over, sniffed and said, “It’s still good… looks like we have supper.”
I hear that road kill is a favorite of freegans, foragers and survivalists. They say there are some risks to eating roadkill like rot, rabies and disease. However by making a few observations you can probably tell is it’s good to go. If the eyes are still clear, the fleas are still active in the fur and there is no rigor mortis it is likely good. But the final test is, if it stinks, don’t eat it!
The term “something stinks” has a much wider application than smelly fish or roadkill. When something doesn’t seem quite right we may comment, “there’s something fishy about this” or “something stinks.”
In our text today, Jesus observed some teachers of religious law and said, “Something stinks.” And the thing that had gone bad was religious piety. The first thing Jesus unpacks is a teaching on Extreme Piousness.
I. Extreme Piousness, Mark 12:38-40
Our text begins in verse 37 with what is described as a large crowd listening to Jesus with great delight.
Jesus said, “Beware of these teachers of religious law!”
In Luke 20:45 – 21:4 we find what we call a parallel passage to Mark 12:38-44. Matthew 23 also seems to parallel Mark 12:38-40 but does not include the story of the widow’s gift. And, Matthew 23 is, as a whole, a scathing indictment against the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees. He tells his listeners in that context that they should “obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they do not practice what they preach.” In the Matthew text Jesus refers to the religious teachers and Pharisees as “blind guides!” He says they “are like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but full of bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly they look like religious people but inwardly they are filled with hypocrisy.”
Piety is a good thing… however when a person become pious it isn’t. Something stinks when religion goes bad. Something stinks when genuine piety becomes piousness.
• Piety: Devoutness. Marked by spiritual devotion.
• Piousness: Conspicuous religiosity. Marked by sham or hypocrisy.
I do not believe Jesus was saying that every Pharisee was living a life of hypocrisy. But apparently hypocrisy was endemic in the religious culture at that time. When religion goes bad, it stinks.
Jesus made four observations about the religious leaders of the day. The religiosity of the religious leaders was marked by:
The religious leaders, “like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.” 12:38
As you know I sometimes were a robe and stole. Clerical garb has its place but imagine what you would think if I wore my robe to George’s for breakfast or you got a glimpse of me gassing my car up at the Shell station with my robe flapping in the breeze or swooping down the aisles at King Soopers. I once wore my robe to a gravesite. It was a cold and snowy day. I preceded the casket to the hearse. Got in the car with Mike Bolin, the funeral director and we followed the hearse out to Evergreen Cemetery. In the Midwest cemeteries are often located on hills that are not suitable for farming or building… this was one of those hilly ones. The hearse and everyone else made it up the hill but Mike’s Cadillac got stuck on the hill. There was nothing to do but get out and climb the hill to do the committal. My observation was that I must have looked like the flying nun trudging up that hill. I never wore my robe to the cemetery again. It was not so much a matter of pretense as it was practicality.