Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’ **
** After today's reading, the Gospel of Mark continues in the Lectionary in late May.
(Lectionary, New Revised Standard Version)
Oh dear, oh dear! Jesus mentions 'yeast' (or 'leaven' as in most translations) so the disciples think "bread" and realise they're hungry. Before we get to the meaning of what Jesus is saying though, we need to look deeper into the word 'leaven' itself. In the bible leaven is a substance used in bread-making, but it also has a symbolic meaning. Making bread involved taking a lump of old dough in a highly fermented state (ie it's going off!) and mixing it with fresh dough which then acted as a raising agent. Because of this in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament the word leaven is often used as a reference to corruption, that is, to sin. The old fermented dough is a sign of the corruption that's in us all. So Saint Paul warns against the spread of sin within the church and encourages the removal of 'old leaven' (1 Corinthians 5.6-8).
But Jesus also uses the word 'leaven' in an opposite way. In a tiny parable he uses it to symbolise the way the Kingdom of Heaven can grow and spread from a tiny beginning (see Matthew 13.33). The smallest influence from the Kingdom of Heaven can transform not just a person, but also the whole world.
By using the image of leaven both to show the corrupting influence of the Pharisees and of Herod, and also to show us the way the Kingdom of Heaven can grow, Jesus challenges us to look at our own lives. He encourages us to be vigilant in avoiding the corrupting influence of false teaching. We are to embrace sincere faith and look for God's truth, which has the power to transform people and communities. If in doubt as to which is false or true, measure everything against "Love".
Lord Jesus Christ,
teach us to look at Your words with insight,
seeing their spiritual meaning.
Help us to understand your sayings
that were spoken at a different time
and place to the one we know today,
but which hold eternal truths.
May we hold fast to that which is good
and reject all false teaching.