By Collin Ross
Part of our job as a parent is to warn our kids about the possible dangers they may face in the world. For example, I constantly caution my toddler against placing his fingers in electrical sockets. I desire to protect him from something I know to be harmful to his well-being.
In our reading today, Jesus gives His disciples a warning, but it’s not one that they would have expected. The scribes and Pharisees were a deeply respected group of religious leaders who were experts in the law that governed the lives of God’s chosen people. If anyone knew how to walk with God in righteousness, it was supposedly these individuals.
And yet Jesus warns His disciples to beware the scribes and Pharisees, going even as far as to say that they are woeful in their faith. Why would Jesus urge His disciples to be wary of this highly respected group? Because their righteousness was only skin deep. It was a facade, and while their showmanship may have fooled the public, it did not fool Jesus. What Jesus saw in these scribes can be summed up in this way: underneath the long prayers and the long robes, they were spiritually poor.
The scribes did not know that they had innate value in the eyes of God and were deeply loved by God—so they needed the praise and adoration of others. That’s spiritual poverty.
The scribes did not feel content with the ways God provided for them, nor did they feel like they could trust Him for their daily needs, so they had to scheme how to take what they needed from others. That’s spiritual poverty.
And because the scribes were so empty on the inside and because they had no firm foundation upon which they could stand, when they prayed, they had to make it a show and a pretense because there was no authentic connection with God to engage in prayer. That’s spiritual poverty.
All of this came from a deep spiritual poverty.
And while we may not do the exact things that Jesus observes in the scribes, there are ways in which that same spiritual poverty can surface in our lives.
So what can we do? We lay before the Lord the entirety of our lives—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and we say, “Lord, more than anything right now, I need you.” The worst thing we could do is hide our inner struggles from God and the world, covering them up through the pretense of outward righteousness. That road only leads to greater shame and isolation. No, we are invited by Christ to be honest with Him and allow His grace to restore our standing with the Father. As Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).