Woe to the Pretentious

December 9, 2021

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).

To be pretentious is to be characterized by the assumption of dignity or importance, especially when exaggerated or undeserved. It is the making of an exaggerated outward show without factual basis; to be false. It is the same thing as being a hypocrite - you are one thing to some people, and another thing to others.

It is fitting that Jesus coupled the greedy with the pretentious. As stated before, the priests were responsible for the widows and orphans. Quite often widows would entrust their family’s estate to the priests believing that, as holy and righteous and godly men, they would deal with their estates accordingly. However, we are told by historians of the day that many priests would steal the property of widows and orphans or use their estates to pay off ‘debts’ they had never incurred. This not only made the priests hypocritical, but also pretentious.

In this condemnation, Jesus denounced these priests for their long, empty prayers. Have you ever been in a prayer meeting where a person took the opportunity to ‘get caught up on his prayer life’, where he ‘prayed around the world and back’, where he ‘prayed a sermon’? I remember a leader in a church not a thousand years ago or a million miles away who prayed eloquently, theologically, doctrinally, philosophically, and no one understood what he was praying. I remember another leader who would close his prayers by saying, “Lord, we pray for those whom we are bound to pray for,” but he would never say who we were ‘bound’ to pray for or what their specific needs were. Do you think Jesus was talking about these people as well?

The Scribes and Pharisees loved to pray, especially out in public where people could hear them. It was a badge of piety that several times a day they would hunt down the larger gatherings of people just to begin praying out loud among them. One author said their prayers could be as long as three hours in length. Bishop Lightfoot (not Gordon Lightfoot) said one rule among them was to meditate an hour, then pray an hour, and then meditate another hour - all of which was included in their ‘long prayers or devotions’.

Jesus condemned these priests for praying holy prayers when they themselves were not holy men; for praying to God when they didn’t even know God; for praying for the people when they despised the people. Pretentious. False. Exaggerated shows of piety when in their mind, heart, and soul they were spiritually dead.

“Lord Jesus, knowing that You know our thoughts, motives, and needs before we even ask, purify us that we may come before You in honor and holiness. As Your servant David prayed, ‘You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Amen.”


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