This last Sunday we tackled the passage in Mark 12:38-40 where Jesus says “Beware of the scribes.” Jesus warns his followers to watch out for the personal arrogance, entitlement, and manipulative greed that marked these men steeped in religion. He begins his warning:
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces…”
At first glance it can appear that Jesus is getting a little carried away with his description of the scribe’s faults. Is it really that big of a deal that they like to wear long robes and enjoy being greeted in the marketplace? What is the matter with long robes? Why are greetings in the marketplace a problem?
I don’t think Jesus is actually concerned with wardrobes or social habits of the scribes. The important thing here is not what they wear or who they talk to on their trips to the marketplace. What Jesus is reproaching is the posture of their hearts. They are arrogant. They like wearing long robes, and they like greetings in the marketplace. They enjoy it when people notice their priestly attire, and they get warm fuzzies in their tummies when people call them “Rabbi” in public.
These scribes were overly concerned about their personal images, and they found their identity in other’s opinions.
The trap to avoid is getting our sense of value from the praise or perception of other people. Following Jesus opens our eyes to the reality that our image isn’t something that is determined by other’s opinions or built by our reputation or appearance. Instead, it is a God-created and God-centered reality. “Image” is not something we are responsible to build, but something we are made to display.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
I think it would be a mistake to read the text on the scribes and think that it means we shouldn’t dress in certain ways, or we should avoid greeting people. Walking in humility is not a matter of deflecting every compliment and working hard to “appear” lowly. There is nothing wrong with dressing well and being personable toward others. The problem comes when our identity, or our understanding of our personal image, is framed by what we wear or if we stand out in the crowd. We’ll never find peace there. God has made us for himself, and we’ll be restless until we find rest in him.