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?”

Okay, as much as the disciples regularly screw up and seem unbelievably slow, I have to give them this one. I mean, what in the world is Jesus talking about? When he closes with the slightly withering “do you not yet understand?” I find myself answering with and for the disciples, “No, not really.”

So what is Jesus talking about? I’m not altogether certain, but I can offer a guess. Perhaps it will be helpful to you or prod your own thinking. (And, while we’re at it, maybe this is a clue to reading the Bible – we don’t always have to understand it; it’s taking it seriously and wrestling with it that really matters.)

Two clues seem most promising to me to help figure this out: 1) Leaven, or yeast, is never a good thing in the Bible. Although it is an essential ingredient of many breads, it is not allowed to be eaten with the Passover meal and those who do eat it are considered cut off from the community. Leaven spreads contamination.

2) The question would then seem to be what the “leaven” or contaminant of the Pharisees and Herod is? And since we’ve just read about the Pharisees’ demand for a sign, we find another clue here. Mark (unlike John, for instance) doesn’t describe what Jesus does as signs but rather as acts of power, evidences and indications of the kingdom of God. But that isn’t enough for the Pharisees. As we saw earlier, they want Jesus to conform to their expectations rather than be willing to change in light of the kingdom. So also Herod refuses the preaching of John the Baptist, relying on political power and influence rather than righteous conduct and trust in God to advance his aims.

Is this not always the temptation – to go one’s own way, to insist on one’s own rights, and to expect God to conform to our expectations rather than be willing to release one’s claims and expectations in order to hear and follow God?

Maybe that’s why the disciples keep misunderstanding Jesus’ teaching and misinterpreting his acts of power: they refuse to let go of all that they thought God should be and do. Why? Because surrendering one’s deeply cherished expectations is a kind of dying, difficult to do, even when the result is receiving God’s coming kingdom.

“Do you not yet understand?” No. Or, maybe, yes, but they (and we!) are not quite ready to accept what God requires – the death of their (and our!) dreams that they (and we!) might experience the life Jesus brings. And, as this story goes one, we’ll see just how far they (and we!) will go to perpetuate this denial.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for coming in Jesus despite our misunderstanding, ignorance, and denial. Thank you for coming, that is, anyway. In Jesus’ name, Amen.