This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Demand for a Sign
16 The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus[a] they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.”3 And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.[b] 4 An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ Then he left them and went away.
The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ 7 They said to one another, ‘It is because we have brought no bread.’ 8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, ‘You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!’ 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Some bits of scripture are almost meaningless to the ordinary reader, as some specialist knowledge is needed. In this case, the reader needsd to know about the character of Jonah whose mission was to preach repentance to foreigners only to find, contrary to his wishes, that they did in fact repent. His initial refusal to carry out his mission had been punished by three days in a whale’s belly. What aspect of this story is Jesus referring to? Elsewhere Jesus’ three days in the tomb is compared to Jonah’s time in the whale. Or Jesus could be hinting that his real mission through his followers will be to foreigners. But I think the most likely point of comparison is simply Jonah’s demand for repentance. The religious leaders are refusiing to see the clear signs that their trdaition of faith needs renewed, so Jesus will give them no miraculous proofs of his mission, just a call to change their ways.
Jesus’ language about yeast may seem even less comprehensible than Jonah. The reader is to remember that when Jesus “fed” 5000 people there were 12 baskets of leftovers (to feed the 12 tribes of Israel) and when he fed 4000 people there were 7 baskets (to feed the 7 nations of the Gentiles). Whatever the origin of the story it’s clear that Mark and Matthew understand the loaves as symbols of Jesus’ teaching which will feed both Jews and Gentiles. Yeast was described by Jesus as one of the small things which can have a large effect. It was also drmatically banished from Jewish houses at Passover, which used unleavened bread. Jesus is warning his disciples that the teachings of the religious establishment may infiltrate his own teaching which is their true nourishment.
For the church of Matthews’ day, this passage gave two warnings: firstly, a reminder that Jesus never used dramatic miracles to “prove” his gospel; and secondly a challenge to hold true to Jesus’ teachings in the face of the teachings of any religious establishment.The first is always helpful because hysterical prophets and religious advertisers are forever designing miracles to gain a following. Jesus simply called people to understand their true situation and to change their ways, which is never popular. The second points to the danger of corrupt religious leadership and the need to hold fast to Jesus’ teachings. It does indeed seem to me that if the church had always tried to obey Jesus’ teachings found in the Gospels that it would have avoided its worst forms of corruption. His sober gospel of God’s goodness is still the best antidote to authoritarian orthodoxy, sectarian self-righteousness, comfy materialism and other forms of corruption that afflict the church in all times. The public reading of a gospel might well be a proper preamble to every major church assembly, just as the reading of part of the gospel every morning makes this blogger a little more aware of his habitual sins.