“They (the disciples) had forgotten to bring bread, and they only had one loaf with them in the boat. He (Jesus) enjoined them, ‘Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ They concluded among themselves it was because they had no bread.” – Mark 8: 14-16
As the Gospel scene opens, the disciples appear a little slow to catch on. They think Jesus is scolding them for forgetting to bring bread for the journey. I admit it. I have to stop right there and wag my head knowingly. I can relate so easily to these disciples. Jesus speaks in the concrete occurrences of their daily lives, and they completely misunderstand. So do I!
How often I miss the true meaning of the events of the day, thinking of them as inconveniences, hindrances to what I “should” accomplish. I fail to see the reality that they are actually opportunities that God has allowed for me to draw closer to Him. What if the next time an appliance broke, I forgot my keys, or I got a flat tire, I instead wondered what God wants to show me. What if these little mishaps, actually invited me to open my eyes and heart to see how God will act? How different would my response be?
And what about his warning concerning the leaven?
Yeast is the leavening agent used to bake bread. When yeast is added to bread dough, it not only makes the bread rise, it also contributes to its flavor. The other thing about yeast is that just a little goes a long way. Why this mention of yeast in the Gospel today? Let’s take a closer look.
If leaven is what makes bread rise, then what is Jesus saying? What is this “leaven of the Pharisees” and “leaven of Herod”?
Pharisees were the group of Jews that were devoted to the law. They could quote Scripture by heart and were regarded as interpreters of oral tradition passed on by the rabbis. Jesus often rebuked them for being caught up in the strict observance of religious laws without understanding the heart and love of God.
Herod was the ruler of Galilee during the time of Christ. He was a selfish and weak man, easily swayed by others. He had John the Baptist beheaded on the whim of his step-daughter. Later, when Jesus was arrested, Herod upon seeing he could not use Jesus for his own purposes, sent him to Pilate.
The leaven of the Pharisees may very well be hypocrisy and spiritual dullness. The leaven of Herod might be likened to selfishness and spiritual pride.
Jesus loved his band of disciples with a deep affectionate love. His warning was for their good. He wanted them to live authentic spiritual lives of service to others. He wants the same for us.
What is the leaven within us? We must be watchful against the pride and hypocrisy that attempts to creep into our hearts. Instead, let us feed the leaven of humility, generosity, authenticity, and above all – love. Let these build us lives of virtue, with the rich flavor of love. Let these expand and make us a true extension of the Body of Christ.
[Gn 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10; Mk 8:14-21]