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Anatomy lesson 5: religious hypocrisy takes advantage of vulnerable people

Rev. Enoch Thompson | August 8, 2023 | Matthew 23:13 (14)


Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will be punished more severely. Matthew 23: 13 (14) (NIV)


Human beings find themselves at one time or another in a situation where they are helpless and will clutch at a straw in the hope of possible help. Widows in the culture of the Bible may be the best illustration of a disadvantaged person. A woman who had lost her husband in a male-dominated culture, not having the physical strength of a man to cater for herself, and open to the evil schemes of lawyers who may not want to defend their cause or men who may want to abuse them is a very good picture of a person who is vulnerable and open to being taken advantage of. So, the Lord charges the scribes and Pharisees of using religious gymnastics to take advantage of disadvantaged persons, just as today's religious hypocrites take advantage of all manner of people, male and female, literate and illiterate, rich or poor, fat or slim, people, just disadvantaged people.

Maybe you have read of, heard of, or even been the victim of the extortions religious charlatans make of people who follow them in the search for answers to their life questions. To extort is to use cunning pressurized methods to take from people that which they possess. Religious hypocrites master and demonstrate the skills of extortion. They are materialistic and seek to amass more and more wealth to support their show of affluence. They, therefore, find ways by pampering or cajoling their victims to extract wealth from them. They project strange ideas about how giving to them would make the givers rich or how using items produced by them would make one have divine favour.

Religious hypocrites project themselves as meriting the best treatment possible in any community of faith they find themselves in, and they get the support of accomplices who shout their praises and require that all resources be placed at their feet. When soldiers came to John the Baptist with an interest to participate in the Kingdom of God which he was proclaiming he directed them to stop extorting from people (Luke 3:14). Do security agents, government workers, Pastors, and church members, extort still, and call themselves Kingdom citizens?

The Pharisees were charlatans as well, they concocted ways of religious showmanship to hoodwink their prey. Today long prayers and superbly heavy glossolalia (speaking in tongues) are glazed with swallowable revelations of things seen in the “spirit world,” with the intention to devour the resources of the helpless seekers. The Lord saw the Pharisees in this mode and condemned them roundly and soundly.


Beware of the schemes of religious extorting charlatans. In the context of church or the marketplace, do you find yourself veering into the mode of such people, to take advantage of vulnerable people? The Lord is watching, and He promises to punish such conduct severely. In all we do, and especially in the position of leadership let us make sure we do not act hypocritically and take advantage of the weak.


Dear Lord, please forgive me if I have used my position to extort anything from anyone. Please help me to be content with what I have, and to be sincere in exercising my temporal and spiritual opportunities and gifts. For your dear Name’s sake, Amen.


SHOWERS! BLESSINGS!! ______________________________

DAILY word study: DEVOUR

In Matthew 23:14, Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows' houses and make long prayers for show. Therefore, you will receive greater condemnation." The word "devour" conveys the idea of consuming or exploiting, and in this context, it speaks of the religious leaders' exploitation of vulnerable individuals while masking their intentions with public displays of piety. This passage prompts us to examine our treatment of the vulnerable and marginalized. It calls us to consider whether our actions reflect genuine care and compassion or if we are inadvertently exploiting others for personal gain.

The Greek word used for "devour" in Matthew 23:14 is "κατεσθίω" (katesthio), which means "to eat up, to consume." It carries a sense of devouring or using up something completely. In this verse, "katesthio" is used metaphorically to describe the exploitation of widows' houses, indicating a figurative consumption of their resources and well-being. Throughout the New Testament, "katesthio" is used to describe both physical consumption (eating food) and metaphorical consumption (exploiting or squandering resources). In this passage, it highlights the misuse of authority and power by the religious leaders to take advantage of those who were in a vulnerable position.

As we study "devour" within the context of Matthew 23:14, it prompts us to reflect on our interactions with others, particularly those who may be vulnerable or in need. Are we using our influence to uplift and support them, or are we inadvertently "devouring" their well-being for our own gain? This reflection challenges us to live out Jesus' example of compassion, justice, and genuine care for those who are in need. Let us seek to be a source of blessing and empowerment rather than contributing to the exploitation of others.

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