Turning on the television to find sound Christian doctrine is like looking for a needle in a haystack. A little bit of what is out there will be good, but you will sift through a lot of hay and stubble that will be consumed at the end of the times. Jesus was angered by the thievery among the Pharisees as he says the second Woe recorded in Matthew:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).
This woe contains two parts, the first of which is to devour widows’ houses. In context, the Pharisees put on the pretense of religiosity while they robbed the people of their inheritances. Paul writes of this same connection in 2 Timothy in his discourse on how the cultures of the world will decline. He writes in 2 Timothy 3:2-7:
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
This reminds me of the televangelists who use glib speeches about faith in God to convince people to send in ‘seed money’ to their ministry all while promising that God will definitely return more money back to them. I have known too many people that gave too much money to such causes to live with less means than they were able. Many of people that believe these preachers spend thousands of dollars on credit cards while faithfully waiting for their mysterious check to come from God. This was the context that Jesus means by devouring widows’ houses. In their situation, the synagog leaders of the day would frequently consult with the widows on financial matters and as such, the Pharisees would use their influence to take more than they should have or to direct them to give to the temple in an attempt to please God. Like the televangelists of our day the Pharisees were frequently taking more than they should have from the people who did not know any better. Jesus warns the leaders about the error of their way while Paul directs us to be on the lookout for people that do such things.
The second part of this woe is a public show for their own gratification. The Pharisees like long prayers to be heard by men. Jesus declares that they have their rewards in full (Matthew 6:5). To contrast the brazen prayer life of the Pharisees, Jesus continues Matthew 6:6 by instructing us how to pray:
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Prayer is something that we need to share in community at times, but it is also something that we need to devote our life. As a mentor once explained as he was passing by his regular prayer spot that he did not have time to pray, then it came to him, he did not have time to not pray. Such should be our life. We need to pray, and while we do need to pray with others, the majority of our prayers should be private between us and God when we can really unload our heart before the one person who already knows it all. Let us not be long-winded praying to be seen by people. Let’s not try to show who is the most spiritual by always being the important person in group prayer. Let us pray to our Lord in a way that glorifies Him and not concern ourselves with others.