Mark 8:14-21

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?” Mark 8:14-21

Sometimes, in reading the gospels, the disciples come off looking pretty clueless. Especially in Mark. Matthew goes out of his way to clean that up. For example, in Mark 10, James and John come forward with an inappropriate request to be given seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. Matthew softens that in Matthew 20 where he says it was the mother of the boys who made the request.

But in this passage I think we need to give the disciples a break. Forgetting to pack enough lunch is one thing, understanding what Jesus means in talking about “yeast” is another. What is Jesus saying?

We know something about the Pharisees and Herod and their unholy alliance. The only thing they have in common is mistrust about Jesus and his followers. Herod has already dispatched with John the Baptizer. The Pharisees are countering Jesus at every turn. But what is the deal with “yeast”?

I like the old line, “The shortest distance between two points begins with the first step, hopefully in the right direction.” The right direction is the key. If you head off in the wrong direction, you can walk forever and never get there. Maybe the world of ideas works the same way.

What fuels the Pharisees and Herod are fear, mistrust, self-centeredness, and pride. No doubt they think they are doing the right thing in opposing Jesus but they are blind to their own motivations. And if they aren’t blind, then they are just making a brazenly self-serving political calculation that they can just get rid of him and they’ll be just fine.

Jesus reminds his disciples of his ability to meet the needs of those who follow him. The crowds were fed. Jesus didn’t need the cooperation of the Pharisees or the authority of Herod to do what he had come among them to do. What Jesus wants from his disciples is their trust.

Maybe, when it comes to trusting Jesus, the problem might be more than misunderstanding. Maybe the problem is hedging our bets. We want to follow Jesus but we are fearful of riling up the “Herods and the Pharisees” in our own lives. We want to dip our toe into the water instead of diving in headfirst. In this light, Jesus is doing more than cautioning his disciples. He is inviting them to dive in.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, help us, especially now as we move into this new week and this busy season, to trust the “enoughness” of our lives. To trust that we are enough. To trust that you are enough. Save us from veering off to the many enticing dead-end paths that would take our eyes off of following you in all things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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