Tuesday in the 6th Week of the Church Year.
Saint for the day: Blessed John of Fiesole a Dominican
James 1:12-18 - Psalm 94 - Mark 8:14-21
“Jesus enjoined them, ‘Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (Mark 8:14)
In today’s first scripture reading from the Letter of James we heard, “Do not be deceived … all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” and has the potential to bring about good or bad. The verse that I quoted above at the beginning of today’s Reflection is one side of the coin and we need to remember that Jesus, himself, used the word “leaven” to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. We know that if you just mix flour and water all you’ll end up with is matzo – flat bread. Put a little yeast – or leaven – in and you’ll get the dough to expand and cook into a large loaf of bread. But it’s important for us to understand how this works.
It’s a great symbol for life … and death. Fermentation is a process of the yeast rotting and, in the process, expanding into something much larger than it was at first. Leaven is a great symbol for life and death. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat.” (John 12:24) So why does Jesus warn his disciples to be careful to avoid the “yeast of the Pharisees?” I think the answer might be on the very practical: if we just let the yeast continue working in the dough – without putting it in the oven – it will continue to expand by the process of fermentation until it becomes just a blob of pungent, rotting dough. Good for nothing! In our first scripture reading from the Letter of James we heard, “No one … should say, ‘I’m being tempted by God’ … for God temps no one.” (James 1:13) God sets before us life and death and the choice is there for us to make. We all know people who have began to follow the Lord and then have become fanatical by taking the good leaven and letting it become vile and stinky. The Pharisees, in many ways, had started out to be the bright lights of the Jewish tradition but they let their enthusiasm run rampant and it no longer fed the people with good, sweat bread but became a burden to them too heavy and stinky to carry. Rules and regulations are important for most of life’s experiences but we need to know when the leaven has done its work … and stop it before it turns bad. Today’s Gospel is a re-cap of the “Loves and fishes” story and told to us again – as Jesus asks, “Do you not remember how many baskets of fragments you picked up? And we know the answer: enough for tomorrow and probably the next day, too! We’re reminded again and again that God not only takes care of us for today, but also provides for the journey. This Gospel ends with Jesus asking, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21)
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