“You devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers ..." (Matthew 23:14)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will be punished more severely.” (Matthew 23:14)

Wasn't Jesus also a rabbi?

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were also often called "rabbi" (teacher). And this strong statement by Jesus as he severely criticizes those who gained that authority. But wasn't Jesus also a rabbi? Why would Jesus criticize the very institution that he was a part of? Why would he condemn his colleagues?

Jesus did not see himself as part of this institution. Yes, Jesus did sit with the teachers at the temple when he was younger. This means that he did study under some temple teachers for a time. Jesus also stood up in temples and preached.

But Jesus did not follow these institutional teachers. Nor did he pass on their teachings. Instead, he went to the desert and followed John the Baptist, who was also condemning the temple institution and its teachers for misleading people:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.' " John's clothes were made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts [beans of the locust tree] and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? (Matthew 3:4-7)
Jesus' teachings mirrored John's. Not only did he also criticize the Pharisees and Sadducees as John did. But he also taught the same central message that John taught:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:2)
After John was imprisoned, Jesus began to teach the same message:
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. ... From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matthew 4:17)
It is no coincidence that Jesus' teachings mirrored John's. After all, he received baptism from John. Baptism at that time was the accepted means for committing oneself to the teachings of a spiritual teacher. (Baptism is still practiced today, but it is more of an institutional ritual now - typically signifying a person joining a particular sect or church.)

Let's look more closely at Jesus' statement to the temple teachers:

How did they 'devour widows' houses'?

The Greek word translated to "devour" is κατεσθίω (katesthiō). The applicable meaning, according to the Greek lexicon, is to "forcibly appropriate" or "to strip one of his goods." This can only mean that the Pharisees and temple officials were confiscating the wealth of women after their husbands died.

And why would institutional temple priests and officials do such a thing? What would drive them to take a person's wealth after the man of the house died?

This points to only one thing: That the temple priests and officials were being paid for their positions, and the only way to bring in enough funds in the treasury to pay these out to the temple priests and Pharisees was to confiscate large sums from widows. This means that the temple priests and Pharisees were not even satisfied with their salaries as appropriated from tithings. They had to forcibly gain further income.

In other words, Jesus is railing about these temple teachers being paid salaries for their positions and becoming increasingly greedy as a result.

They had turned what should have been their service to God and to others into a business. Jesus railed similarly when he saw the temple being used as a marketplace, as he turned over the tables of the merchants, saying:
"It is written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'" (Matthew 21:13)
This is the same issue. Being a professional teacher, be it a Pharisee, rabbi, priest, preacher, minister, reverend, cardinal, imam, guru, bishop, or pope, is to turn what should be service to the Supreme Being into a business.

Jesus never accepted a salary. His teachings were given for free (and there were no collection plates passed around) because teaching was his service to God. A person who accepts a salary becomes beholden to that source of income. Thus such a teacher can never be God's representative. It is not possible. They will only represent the source or institution paying their salaries.

It also creates, as has been shown in many modern sectarian teachers and their institutions, greed among those involved in the collection and payment of salaries. Thus we find many of these professional teachers advertising themselves on television, radio, and mass-mailings in manipulative ways in order to gain more income. Their motivation is tainted by money - and so is their service.

Can someone be paid to serve God?

Not according to Jesus. This is why Jesus said:
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24)
The word "money" here is translated from the Greek word μαμωνᾶς (mamōnas) - which can mean "mammon" or "wealth" - but also materialism in general. One might say that money represents materialism, but it should also be said that money can be used to serve God, and in this respect, it becomes part of one's service.

But to collect money in exchange for service cancels service to the Supreme Being. It is either one or the other - not both, as Jesus states. One cannot propose to be serving God by teaching and then also collect a salary for that service as well.

Many modern preachers, for example, will offer "prayer requests" in mass mailings and internet campaigns. The "prayer request" strategy is one of the biggest money-making schemes invented. This type of scam is also intended to "devour widows' houses" by tricking innocent people (often the elderly) into believing that if the preacher prays on their problem, the problem will be fixed.

Such a prayer request pitch will often be worded manipulatively to lead the person into believing that he or she will have a better chance of the prayer working if they donate. So they donate large sums along with their prayer requests, and the preachers make millions of dollars off this scam.

Why did Jesus say, 'for a show make lengthy prayers'?

This indicates these temple officials do not have a personal, confidential loving relationship with God. Rather, they make a big show of their prayers in public in order to impress others. They use their positions of authority to earn money, and then make a big show to make others think they are advanced spiritually. This very scene is repeated daily on evangelist television shows.

Jesus is basically calling the temple priests a bunch of scam artists. They are cheating people. And sadly, this is precisely what is now going on today in the name of Jesus within many modern ecclesiastical sectarian organizations.

Why would they 'be punished more severely'?

Here Jesus says, "Therefore you will be punished more severely.” What does this mean?

The Supreme Being created the physical world as a place of consequence. Here the results of our actions are returned to us. This enables us to hopefully learn, leading ultimately to our learning about the Supreme Being and returning to Him.

But those who pretend to represent God and yet try to utilize their positions in order to take advantage of others will have a worse fate: They will suffer the results of misleading others.

Jesus shows us by example how a real representative of God conducts himself. Jesus never accepted a title or salary by an institutional temple organization, although he certainly could have. He never made a big show of his prayers. When Jesus prayed, he prayed in a private place, away from others:
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39)
Jesus also shows us what to pray for here. He shows us that we should not be praying for God to bring us stuff, as though God was some sort of genie or waiter: "God give me a big car." "God give me a big house and a big job." These are not prayers. These are orders. These are what a superior party asks from an inferior party.

A servant of God does not order materialistic stuff from God. God is our loving, merciful master. Therefore we should not be praying for God to bring us materialistic things. Sure, we can ask God for mercy, forgiveness, and the relief of suffering. But ultimately, we should be praying to become one of God's humble loving servants. We should be asking God to give us the ability to please Him with our lives.

This is what Jesus' prayer in Matthew 26:39 is: Jesus is asking that he be permitted to do God's will rather than his own will. This is the prayer of a loving servant of God.