When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."(Matthew 16:5–6, NIV)
Lent is a season of fasting in preparation for Holy Week, the time when we remember Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. And, fasting is a good time to recognize how much I think about food, how I view eating and how much more I need the word of God than even my daily bread. Fasting helps me to focus without distraction on what the Lord may want to say to me.
As they were growing up, our kids often helped me see how distracted I was. They would talk at me and I’d nod with an “uh huh” every once in a while. This would go on until they asked me something crazy like, “Can I have $100?” Then I’d wake up. I supposedly was listening, but the words were being filtered out (or blocked) by my grid of preoccupation.
After Jesus fed four thousand plus with the loaves and fishes, (very much like the same miracle He’d done with a group of over five thousand), He was confronted by questions from the Pharisees and the Sadducees. These groups of course were not asking Him for a sign because they were anxious to follow him. They masked their real, harmful intent by asking for further verification of His messiahship.
In the boat afterwards, Jesus assumed that here was a teachable moment—an opportunity to warn the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” The class was not on His wavelength however. They had forgotten to take extra food for the journey. They felt badly about it. “How foolish of us to not have anticipated lunch!” So what Jesus was saying got filtered out through the grid of embarrassment at being unprepared, worry and perhaps even hunger.
“Beware,” said Jesus. What was this pernicious “yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees? It was their teaching which found its root in “wicked and adulterous” hearts (Matthew 16:4) and was portrayed by Jesus as hypocrisy or “play acting” (Luke 12:1). He knew we all needed to eat, but Jesus was aware of a danger to them—and us—at that moment, which was far greater than the danger of missing a meal.
I remember as a teenager riding in the car with Mr. Reed, an elderly farmer, who was driving us to a Youth for Christ rally (this really dates me, I know). Mr. Reed was “old as dirt” and honestly we thought him a bit out of touch with our generation. One day, I was asking over and over, in typical narcissistic teenage fashion, where we were going to stop for a snack on the way home from the meeting. Herb finally asked me a simple rhetorical question: “Greg, don’t you know the things of this world are temporal?” That was perhaps my first lesson in self-awareness. I was thinking more about my stomach than about what God might want to say to me that evening.
Today I realize that I still need such self-awareness, to recognize the masks I am wearing and the preoccupation that may be keeping me from hearing what Jesus is trying to say to me in the moment. May God help me to become more aware that things like worrying about my next meal or my next paycheck or my image before others, may actually reveal “the yeast of my worries.”
Warmly in Christ, Greg Aikins
For Reflection “For the kingdom of heaven is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17, NIV)
How might God want to uncover “preoccupations” in your life during this Lenten season, in order to clear the way so you can hear His voice?
What kinds of “play acting” are hiding the real “you” and preventing you from being all that God intends you to be?