41 Then He said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the book of Psalms,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
43 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’
44 Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord,’ and how is He his son?”
This was a question that Jesus asked of the assembled religious leaders. The nature of the question has to do with the patriarchal nature of their culture. In Jewish culture, the elder of the family was the head of the family and the one deserving of the most respect.
Here Jesus poses the question that if the Messiah is the Son of David, David’s descendent, how is it that David declares the Christ to be his Lord (his superior) when David should be the greater one since he sired the line that produced the Messiah?
Jesus is asking a question to get them thinking about the nature of the Christ in light of their society’s expectations. If the Messiah were simply a man, David wouldn’t view Him as superior. They were expecting a new king, Jesus is trying to get them to understand that the Messiah was more than that. That the Messiah had a nature that made Him superior to any man.
Per Matthew, the assembled religious leaders couldn’t answer Jesus’ question and fell silent.
45 And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 47 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
There’s no time indicators here to see if Jesus launched into this condemnation of the religious leaders immediately following His question, but thematically it fits with Luke’s message in this chapter. We’ve seen incidents starting in chapter 19 detailing the corruption that had crept into the Temple in the form of vendors and exorbitant profits. Chapter 20 shows the nature of the religious leaders in that they are motivated to try and destroy Jesus for challenging their power and position among the people.
So ending this chapter with a condemnation of religious people seems apt.
If you’ve been raised in the church or spent any sort of time there, it hits closer to home than we’d like to admit. Jesus describes them as loving the trappings of religion: the respectful greetings from the masses, the pious outward appearance, the honor bestowed on them for being holier than the rest of us, all the while their actions are just as vile and corrupt as anyone else. They show up to services, keep the rules, say the right words, and then go out and destroy people’s lives in their business practices, in their personal interactions with others, in their political offices.
It’s really easy to be ‘pious’ in front of others. It’s easy to speak the right words. It’s easy to show up every Sunday. It’s easy to feel holy and justified because you don’t break the commandments. At least not as badly as everyone else. It’s easy to feel self-satisfied and superior because you go to the right church that believes all the right things. And it’s really easy to become obsessed with other people’s less than holy conduct.
And it’s even easier in our culture to justify personal, business, and political evil sometimes using scripture, all the while your actions destroy the lives of others: your family, your community, the poor, widows, orphans, the hungry.
Religion is really all about us. It’s about making us feel good about ourselves as we wallow around in the pig sty full of filth. And it’s really easy to do it all in the name of Jesus, who spent His own life not pointing out how holy He was, but who spent it trying to make a difference in the lives of people He met every day.
The warning is that those who put on the mantle of piety and then go out to steal, kill, and destroy the lives of others will receive a greater condemnation. How many of us will be surprised on the last day to find that our own sins were far greater and far more deserving of punishment than the ‘sinners’ we looked down up and condemned in this life?
It’s easy to be religious. It’s hard to be a Christian.