11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” – Mark 8:11-21
The setting is Jesus having just fed four thousand people with a few loaves of bread and some fish. They had like seven baskets of food leftover after everyone had eaten.
They get in the boat and head off to the next work, and when they get there the Pharisees begin to bug Jesus for some sign so that they don’t have to live by faith in obedience to the Scriptures AND risk losing their status with the Romans and power over the people.
Mark inserts the clarifying remark in verse 14 when he says that the boys forgot to bring bread for their journey. And Jesus uses the occasion to teach his guys a very important lesson. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, who they gladly bow the knee to in currying favor with Rome.
Jesus uses leaven on occasion to teach what the kingdom of God is like in that it is unseen and yet powerfully multiplies to fill the earth. In this instance, he likens the Pharisee’s and Herod’s teaching and practice to leaven, which likewise can take over one’s thought and practice.
He tells his guys to beware of that leaven, that teaching, those practices that look for signs to confirm Jesus’ identity and nullifies the life of faith.
Of course, the boys misunderstand Jesus’ teaching, and think he’s getting on them about forgetting bread.
Side note: I love how the Bible just deals with our slowness to be aware of all that the curse of sin has caused, and the way in which we don’t get it right and need God to intervene. It’s easy to only see God’s sometimes harsh and frustrated intervention and miss that he is actually intervening and does so frustrated at sin’s effect in/on/around us and what sin has caused in the world while loving us by actually intervening to save us. It’s that tangible evidence that he loves us. Love is sometimes expressed in anger and frustration because love has been transgressed, and the anger and frustration are evidence there is active love.
Jesus, graciously, and somewhat frustrated, reminds them about how he made bread for them supernaturally and that he was not concerned with food. He needed to “yank” their attention from food to the most important issue for them and that was the false and deadly teaching of the Pharisees and Herod. The “leaven” Jesus was concerned with was teaching that would nullify the life of faith for his disciples.
I am so quick to miss the point. I get myself focused on temporal inconvenience and challenges and often miss the issues of weightier and more glorious consequence. I’m grateful for God’s word and the Holy Spirit who lovingly and graciously and sometimes in a frustrated and fatherly discipline “yanks” me over into what I need to know to preserve my life and spiritual vitality.
So, when you read in your bible Jesus’ sometimes frustrated responses to his people, don’t misunderstand, Jesus loves them, and he will do what is necessary to rescue them, even if it means taking his tone to a new place, and ultimately going to the cross to finally and fully secure their transformation and promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit to be with them forever.
Hear in those encounters nothing but love, because that is exactly what it is, just a different flavor than how we have a tendency to understand love.
Oh, how he loves you and me!