Warehouses and restaurants require workers to wear closed-toe shoes. Some human resources policies prohibit coworkers from dating one another. Other businesses restrict employee access to websites like Facebook or Twitter during the work day. Few would argue that dating or open-toe shoes or social media sites are always to be avoided. These rules are intended to guide behavior and promote wellbeing in a specific context for a specific time.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had issued their own standards for behavior, which were supplemental rules to the Mosaic Law. They wanted to use this strict code of conduct for everyone as the standard of morality that pleased God. As Jesus often pointed out, they did more harm than good. For example, in Matthew 15 Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ teaching about temple offerings. They had persuaded people that money otherwise meant for helping one’s parents could instead be dedicated to God. They enriched the temple coffers but were in flagrant violation of the commandment to honor one’s parents.
The Pharisees’ greed was likely in His mind when Jesus pointed out the widow dropping her two pennies into the temple treasury (see Luke 20:46–47). This widow was giving sacrificially, but Jesus also describes her as a victim of the Pharisees’ flawed theology, an example of how they devour widows’ houses.
Jesus describes an apocalyptic vision in this chapter—a time when the temple will be destroyed, natural disaster will strike, war will erupt, and persecution will begin. More amazing that even these dreadful predictions, however, is His encouragement to the disciples. He will provide words of wisdom in the face of oppression (v. 15). And they can stand firm without fear, trusting in God’s faithful deliverance (vv. 34–36).