“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? . . . Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:15-21)
It shouldn’t have been so hard to figure out — not on the heels of the two major crowd-feeding miracles — that Jesus wasn’t talking about groceries here. After feeding thousands on next-to-nothing, He would hardly be worried about lunch for 13.
The yeast Jesus was talking about was the spirit-crippling legalism of the Pharisees and the lust and power that marked Herod’s character. An obsession with rule-keeping (many of them man-made) led the Pharisees to self-righteousness and judgment of others. Herod’s life sent the message that you could break the rules with impunity if you had enough power; that pleasing yourself was the highest goal.
The difficulty began when the disciples heard Jesus’ words as a criticism instead of a caution. They had forgotten to bring bread — to do a simple task with which Jesus had entrusted them. They were likely feeling inadequate, and those thoughts created background noise that affected their hearing.
I do that sometimes — read the Scriptures that encourage me to be more like Jesus, and immediately think of all the ways I’ve failed, or am failing, in that regard. That’s when the yeast of the Pharisees can creep in, urging me to focus on my weakness instead of God’s empowerment. If I don’t get my eyes back on God and where He wants to take me, before I know it a whole host of negative thoughts have risen and crowded out right thinking.
In a similar way, Herod’s yeast of pride can mask the Word that admonishes, resulting in the conclusion that we’re fine the way we are — we can do our own thing our own way — we’re good to go. The background noise here is from the world: Take pride in who you are; don’t worry about who God wants you to be.
Jesus wasn’t finding fault. He was pointing out what can so easily creep into our thinking — the attitudes, the delusions, the lies that tie us up in spiritual knots. He compared them with yeast because the analogy is so apt. Grains of yeast are small and inconspicuous until they’re activated. Then they spread quickly and impact everything with which they come into contact, changing the texture and shape of the whole mixture, puffing it up.
Jesus is the bread of life. Sin invades that life, changing its texture and shape. Sin can puff us up with pride, leading us to think we can shape our faith to suit ourselves, take the salvation that Jesus offers and add our own ingredients. Sin can make us blind to what God wants us to see, deaf to what we need to hear. Sin can twist the Word, keeping us self-condemned, unable to take hold of God’s forgiveness.
The second problem the disciples had was that instead of asking Jesus what He meant, they asked each other. I’m tempted to think that if Jesus were right there in the boat with me, I’d be taking advantage of the opportunity to speak to Him directly and not messing around with a lot of speculation. The flaw in this is simply that Jesus IS right here in the boat with me, and too often I DON”T take advantage of His nearness to ask Him what He means, where He would have me go, what He would have me do or not do.
What Jesus wanted His followers to recognize is the attitudes and emotions that start small but grow to affect our whole mindset: the yeast of pride, fear, negative thoughts and emotions. The bread of life in Christ is lived in His truth, in sincerely seeking His will, and walking in His way. We find that life-bread from feeding on Him daily, getting our vital sustenance from Him. He knows that when we get that kind of nutrition while we drink deeply of His presence, we are energized and refreshed, having what we need to live abundantly no matter what our circumstances.
Jesus is with me in the boat as I navigate through each day. He offers everything I will need, even if I mess up. My responsibility is to take — and use — what He offers. I need to see and hear that truth afresh every day. Jesus healed the blind and deaf; and no matter how I slice it, that includes me.
Father, help me to take my nourishment from You today, and to check the ingredients of everything else — incoming and outgoing.