45 And in the hearing of all the people he said unto his disciples, 46 Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts; 47 who devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater condemnation.
As the long day of public controversy drew to its close, it was not strange that Jesus turned to warn the people against these enemies who had been seeking to defeat him and who were determined upon his death. These professed guides could not be followed safely. These rulers had shown themselves to be unworthy of their place and power. The people must look elsewhere for true teachers. They must find other men to interpret for them the will of God.
The scribes were the professional teachers of the day, the trained expositors of the Law. Most of them were Pharisees. They were of all men the most bitter enemies of Christ; they were jealous of his power; they were angered at his claims; and finally they had been goaded to desperation by their humiliating defeat at his hands. Upon these men Jesus pronounced the most stern condemnation. His words are recorded at length by Matthew. In the brief summary of the discourse made by Mark and by Luke we find only a few short sentences which sketch three principal features in the character of these unworthy leaders of religious thought. The first is their vanity, their ambition for display and for high position, and their love of flattery. The second is their cruel avarice, expressed by our Lord in the suggestive clause, |who devour widows' houses.| The third was their shameful hypocrisy; they are described as men who |for a pretence make long prayers.| It has always been remarked that the most bitter denunciations of Jesus were addressed to the men whose outward lives were most respectable and whose religious professions were most loud. This does not mean, however, that open vice and flagrant sin are better than selfish and proud morality; but it does remind us that great religious privileges and the possession of revealed truth involve solemn responsibilities and that hypocrisy and pretense are abominations in the sight of God.