Advent Devotionals: Day 9

A Heart of Purity

Luke 20:45-21:4

"While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely." As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

At first glance this story seems to be about sacrificial giving, but as we look closer, there is another dimension here. It seems to be more about the religious leaders than the poor widow! Jesus pointed out how the teachers of the law made a production of their rituals; we see just how empty their rules and regulations really are.

It's hard to imagine that such a production would not be driven by pride, greed, and power. Their religious culture is not characteristic of genuine faith in God. In Matthew 23:27, Jesus admonished the Pharisees and teachers of the law, saying, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." A religion like that is more concerned with public appearance than caring for a poor widow.

James 1:27 reads "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." That doesn't sound like the kind of religion the teachers of the law practiced. I am challenged not to be like the teachers of the law, caught up in religious production and expectation, but instead to pursue the kind of religion that James talks about, the kind that protects the orphans and widows.

Prayer: God, help me not to be concerned with how my religious practices look on the outside. Make my heart pure. Teach me to fear You and not the opinion of men. Give me a spirit of compassion for those in need.
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