The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.  He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.”  Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.  The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat.  “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? Are your hearts hardened?  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 of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”  He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
Dear God, I’ve heard the “yeast of the Pharisees” described loosely before, but I wonder how we might define it more precisely. How might I look at this story and see the Pharisee in me or in church leaders (both local and national) today?
So what did Jesus see when he looked at the Pharisees?
- People who had lost their first love–you.
- People who had become too focused on keeping their existing position of power and influence in the community.
- People who cared more about the letter of the law than the spirit of the law.
- People who judged as inferior things they didn’t understand.
- People who had made a bargain with the existing political powers so they they and the Jewish religion would maintain its influence.
So what was Jesus saying to the disciples as he made this statement to them? Considering this is likely Peter relating this story to us through Mark, I would say that Peter definitely took a lesson from this story. He didn’t know how to apply it initially, but as the years passed, he got to apply it through the acceptance of Paul as an apostle, the following of the vision to eat the unclean food and minister to and accept Gentiles, and even the ushering in of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, certainly something for which they had no frame of reference.
So what kinds of things might Peter have to say to the American or worldwide church today in terms of what we should learn from Jesus’s words. Politically, there are certainly some national leaders who have made deals with existing political power in order to have top-down influence over society. In fact, they are very yeast-y when you compare them with the things I mentioned above. But they are too easy of a target. What is it in me that tends to be yeast-y?
- I tend to make an idol out of the man-made structures around me. I put a lot of my confidence in electricity running to my home, access to the Internet, water that comes out of the faucets (both hot and cold), and the ability to communicate with others any time I desire. How do I know this? Because right now every single one of these things has either been taken from me or is being threatened, and it has gotten my attention. I have made an idol out of my American societal infrastructure.
- I tend to want to influence others to see things my way and act accordingly. I like having an influential role in our local community. I can become prideful in that. I can desire the attention and respect I receive.
- I tend to be close-minded when it comes to what you might be doing differently today than you were hundreds or thousands of years ago. I am skeptical of those who advocate all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as tongues and prophecy.
- I certainly allow myself to love things in my society more than I love you. I embrace the wrong things. I pursue the wrong things. I allow lethargy and complacency to distract me from the different things you call me to.
Father, help me to see the yeast of the Pharisees that is in my life. Help me to identify it and reject it. It starts with the idols I’ve made. The idol of my society providing for me. The idol of my government solving my problems. The idol of my country’s military or economy making me feel good when I walk around instead of you. I heard yesterday about a former bishop in Haiti who is just trying to feed people, but his life is always in danger. He has no one but you. He has no government upon which he can depend. He has not power grid, running water, or Internet connection that he can say with confidence will be running tomorrow. He has no police to protect him. He doesn’t even have the church supporting him. He has only you. I have to admit that I don’t want to have to get to that point to learn that lesson, but I know that it is easy for me to look to my idols instead of you. I am so sorry.
In Jesus’s name I pray,