Mark: The Yeast of the Pharisees and Herod

Read: Mark 8:14-21

It’s so easy to make fun of the disciples, their apparent ignorance, lack of insight and understanding, poor education, etc. Well, at least that’s my first reaction:

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.” Mark 8:14-16

They only brought one loaf of bread. Based on the math of two previous stories, 5 loaves feeds 5,000+ and 7 loaves covers 4,000+; I’m pretty sure one loaf for their team is enough.

No, dear disciples, that’s not the point at all.

Way back in Exodus, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was instituted as a reminder of the first Passover, God’s amazing deliverance from the strong arm of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. No doubt everyone knew about the significance of yeast in baking bread. The leavening agent for bread is the difference between nice bread or flat crackers, a good loaf that sells in the marketplace or bad loaf that’s tossed to the dogs (unless intentionally removed). Hmmm.

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? Mark 8:17-18

It’s interesting that Mark prefaces this with “aware of their discussion.” The image I have in my mind is the disciples huddled up comparing notes, trying to figure out what He just told them.

On a practical level, Jesus reminds this that one loaf is surely enough to feed them, but it’s not about the loaf of bread people! It’s about the yeast, that small ingredient that changes everything. Just one gram of yeast and the bread is different, one sin separates the sinless from the sinful. There is no hope except through Jesus.

In the text, Jesus includes both the Pharisees and Herod in the same group, like they are of the same character. That’s absolutely the worst group anyone would want to be associated with. Herod is the one that just served up John the Baptist’s head on a platter just a few chapters ago. Herod’s yeast is probably narcissism, the Pharisees’ yeast begins with pride. The combination of the two lead to a life full of sin, far from that which Jesus calls us to.

Jesus chose these disciples intentionally, surely they were not from either camp, but they are certainly far from ready for what lies ahead. They have much to learn. We have the privilege of reading the rest of the story, they had to walk around in a daze hoping for the light to come on and clear up their misunderstanding. I’m sure they knew they were off base, but in the course of events, they just couldn’t get their minds wrapped around what Jesus was teaching them.

The same goes for me far too often. Is this trial a test or am I just being ignorant? Did I forget to bring the bread or did I miss the point entirely? What is the yeast in my life?

Like a song that ends in dissonance, Mark leaves us hanging:

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” Mark 8:21


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