Matthew 23:14 (Devouring Widows’ Houses; The Widow’s Mite)

Recall from our previous study that Jesus in this verse pronounces woe upon the scribes and Pharisees for using their religious pretense to obtain a position of trust and then abusing that trust to exploit even the most vulnerable against the clear and repeated warnings of Scripture.  What connotation does “devour” in this passage carry about the wanton excess the scribes and Pharisees were seeking for themselves to live sensuously at the expense of others whom they were exploiting in order to do so?  Cf. Mat 23:25, Luk 15:30, 2Co 11:20.  What warnings does Scripture give about such behavior?  See Isa 5:8, Amos 6:1,4-6, Mic 2:1-2, Luk 16:19-25, Jam 5:1-5, Rev 18:7-9.  Considering the woe Jesus pronounces upon the outwardly religious scribes and Pharisees for their ravenous appetite for the things of the world, what does this teach us about how sinful God views a gluttonous life of waste and excess, especially when others around us are in want?  See Eze 16:49-50.

What exactly does Jesus mean that the scribes and Pharisees were devouring widow’s houses?  Are we to understand His words only in the specific sense that they were seeking title to the homes that widows lived in in order to sell or rent them for their own profit, and/or because they were experts in the law, perhaps encouraging widows to will their homes to the temple treasury from which they would benefit?  Or should we understand His words also in the more general sense that their love for the world was so ravenous they would take even from poor widows whatever property or wealth they might have to sustain themselves, which like today could be summed up as one’s “house”?  Cf. Gen 12:1,15, 14:14, Est 8:1-2, Mar 12:44.  Read Luk 21:1-4, and recall that when originally penned there were no chapter or verse divisions; notice then the context of the previous verse, Luk 20:47.  Are we to then understand Jesus’ teaching about the poor widow’s gift to be only or even primarily about sacrificial giving as it is normally presented, or rather, from the immediate context (see also Mar 12:40-44) an example of the way that even poor widows, who ought to be the recipients of the fruits of sincere religion, were being exploited by man’s religion?  Think: does God who commands the care of poor widows expect them to give all they have to live on to support a religious system whose leaders live a sensuous life of luxury and excess?  What insight does this give us about the manner in which the religious leaders were devouring widows’ homes?  In what ways does this same thing happen still today?

What does Jesus say will be the consequence for all in any age who would use religion to exploit the most vulnerable in society that He has commanded true religion to care for?  See Mat 23:14c.  What does “greater condemnation” indicate about degrees of culpability and damnation that will come upon men when they are judged by God?  Cf. Mat 11:24, Luk 12:46-48.  In this context, what does the most severe condemnation meted out in Scripture that Jesus pronounces in seven-plus woes upon the outwardly religious scribes and Pharisees teach us about those upon whom God’s wrath and judgment shall fall the hardest?  See Mat 24:51 and note[1].

 


1. It is no new thing for the show and form of godliness to be made a cloak to the greatest enormities.  But dissembled piety, however it passes now, will be reckoned for as double iniquity, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men…  The pretenses of religion, with which hypocrites disguise or excuse their sin now, will aggravate their condemnation shortly. Such is the deceitfulness of sin, that the very thing by which sinners hope to expiate and atone for their sins will come against them, and make their sins more exceedingly sinful.  Matthew Henry.

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