Leaven

This evening at sundown begins Passover, the fifteenth of the month of Nisan. By that time, all leaven / yeast is to be removed from the house of the Jewish families which will celebrate the week of the feast.

For believers in Christ, it’s as good a time as any to remember the warning of Jesus about certain kinds of leaven, the leaven of the Pharisees, Sadducees and of Herod.

It is the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees that is proscribed in Matthew 16, right after He fed four thousand and both parties conspired to test Him by asking Him to show them a sign from heaven. (Were they not paying attention? He had just fed thousands of people!)

Mark 8 recalls the same incident, but remembers only the Pharisees present and the warning Jesus gave as about the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, and it’s likely that Mark recounts what Peter told him.

In both accounts, the disciples to whom Jesus spoke were confused, thinking that He was scolding them because they forgot to bring bread across the lake on the boat after that sumptuous dinner the night before. Jesus reminds them that He had fed 5,000 and 4,000 men (plus women and children) – and they seem to understand that the nourishment came in settings of teaching – deducing that “yeast” in His metaphor meant the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:12).

So, what was the teaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod?

For simplicity’s sake, I tend to think of it in three words:

Hypocrisy

This would be the Pharisees’ particular brand of leaven. Luke 12 reports Jesus revealing that after pronouncing woe after woe on them in the previous chapter. They had made the law so detailed by their doctrines that it was no longer possible to follow. They bound these heavy burdens of legalism on others, unwilling to lift a finger to help them – but were unwilling to bear their own burden; to practice what they preached.

Hyper-rationality

The Sadducees’ leaven was their own vaulted intellect; they had reasoned out the impossibility of miracles and angels and spiritual beings and life beyond death. Like deists of a couple centuries past, they had de-spiritualized the word of God – completely failing to understand what Jesus told a woman at a well in Samaria: that God is Spirit, and must be worshiped in spirit and truth.

Hubris

I’d have to say that Herod’s leaven was taught not so much verbally as by example. He was the king and he could do whatever he wanted, and that was the law because God had seen fit for him to be anointed. Never mind how he had actually come to the throne or how he kept it; he could do as he pleased. He’d just execute anyone who was inconveniently standing against his royal privilege. Whatever he said and believed was what God wanted him to say and believe.

There’s good leaven: the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:21). And there’s bad leaven (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).

As we prepare for the week recognizing the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, it’d be a great time to snoop around and root out these kinds that start with “H.”

There should be no place for them in our houses.

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3 thoughts on “Leaven

  1. Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Jesus Way’ (the 3rd in the ‘Conversations in Spiritual Theology’ series) is all about contrasting the leaven of Jesus with the other popular leavens of his day.

  2. “The Sadducees’ leaven was their own vaulted intellect; they had reasoned out the impossibility of miracles and angels and spiritual beings and life beyond death. ”

    In this they were sticking with all OT books other than the Pharisee forgery Daniel. Moses speaks of no afterlife, Ecclesiastes positively denies one. And angels never have names outside Daniel, nor are there spirits (i.e. demons) aside from Daniel’s “Prince of Persia”. In other words, not believing in angrls or spirits is oversimplification, like when a Trinitarian says an Arian “doesn’t believe in Jesus” or an anhihilationist “doesn’t believe in hell” whereas they actually do, just not with all the supposedly ‘orthodox’ details. Sadducees obviously believed in the existence of angels and human spirits (at least while joined to the body), but not in named sngels with continuouse existences (i.e. secondary deities) nor in evil spirits or demons. And why not? Because the OT doesn’t teach them, aside from one Pharisee forged book.

    • Oops, I failed to explicitly complete a sentence:

      Sadducees obviously believed in the existence of angels and human spirits (at least while joined to the body), BECAUSE BOTH ARE IN THE TORAH. But also in the Torah, when asked for his name, the angel that renamed Jacob refused to give, and no angel ever gives his name, until the Pharisee fiction writer invents two angels who love giving out their names (Michael and Gabriel) like candy.

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