Mark 8: 14 – 21 The yeast of the Pharisees and Herod
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?’
* * *
‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’
Jesus is not talking about actual yeast; he’s speaking figuratively, in a sort of mini-parable. Yeast in parables refers to something that starts very small and then increases until it affects the whole.For example, Luke tells us: “Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’ ” (Luke 13: 20 – 21). That is an encouraging parable, reassuring the disciples (and us) that, whether we see it or not, God is working away bringing his plans to fruition.
This parable in Mark 8:15 is different. Jesus is warning the disciples against the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod. What can he mean?
As usual, it helps to look at the context. Immediately before this short passage, the Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign from heaven – and Jesus had refused their request.
Could he have given a sign from heaven to validate his mission? Certainly he could; in fact, he just has. He’s just fed four thousand people with seven loaves and a few small fish.
The mission of Jesus is to call everybody to repentance, so that he can save us. Now he calls everybody, including Pharisees and Herodians. But we have to respond. We have to find the humility to admit that we sin, and accept Jesus as the one who saves us.
The Pharisees who asked Jesus for a sign were hypocrites. They pretended to be ready to accept a sign from heaven, but they hadn’t been to hear what Jesus was teaching. They were hypocrites in many other ways, too.
When Jesus warns his disciples against the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod, he is warning them against hypocrisy. The more often we are hypocritical, the more often we are tempted to use it as a mask for our sin. It grows until eventually it takes over. And what are we hiding with our hypocrisy? Why, out-and-out rebellion against God!
There is a way out, though. The moment we let Jesus into our lives as Lord, the kingdom of heaven can start to work in us. Again, this is just like yeast; it starts small and grows until it has leavened the whole loaf.
Let’s be aware of the dangers of the yeast of the Pharisees, but equally aware of the wonderful opportunity of the yeast of the kingdom of heaven. Let us take to heart all Jesus’ teaching, and seek to obey it.
Thank you for the teaching of Jesus. Thank you that your Holy Spirit works within me, just like yeast. Please help me to listen and obey with purity of heart.
In Jesus’ name, Amen