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.”