01 July 2019

The yeast of hypocrisy.

Mark 8.14-21, Matthew 16.5-12, Luke 12.1.

After the most recent encounter Jesus had with Pharisees—namely where they wanted an End Times sign from him, not because they wanted proof Jesus is Messiah, but so they could shred his “sign” as bogus—Jesus decided to remind his students what sort of people they were dealing with. Not that all Pharisees were this way… hence his choice of metaphor.

Mark 8.14-15 KWL
14 The students forgot to take bread,
and they hadn’t one roll with them in the boat.
15 Jesus instructed them, saying “Listen. Watch out for the Pharisees’ yeast and Herod’s yeast.”
Matthew 16.5-6 KWL
5 Jesus’s students, coming to the far side of the lake,
forgot to bring bread.
6 Jesus told them, “Listen and pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
Luke 12.1 KWL
During a gathering of a crowd of ten thousands—
who were trampling one another—Jesus first began to tell his students,
“Watch out for yeast among yourselves—
which is Pharisee-style hypocrisy.”

Luke, which has this story take place after Jesus had just critiqued several Pharisee behaviors he identified as hypocrisy, straight-up interprets his own metaphor. He wants no confusion. Because in Mark and Matthew there was a lot of confusion: Jesus’s students were fixated on the fact they didn’t bring any bread with them.

As if Jesus was concerned in the slightest about a bread shortage. As he immediately pointed out.

Mark 8.16-21 KWL
16 They talked among themselves about not having bread.
17 Knowing this, Jesus told them, “Why are you talking about not having bread?
You don’t yet think nor understand; you have hardened hearts.
18 You have unseeing eyes and have unlistening ears, and don’t remember:
19 When I broke the five rolls for 5,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Twelve.”
20 “And when I broke seven for 4,000, how many full leftover-baskets did you gather?”
The students said, “Seven.”
21 Jesus told them, “How do you not yet understand?”
Matthew 16.7-12 KWL
7 They talked among themselves, saying this: “We didn’t take bread.”
8 Knowing this, Jesus said, “Why are you little-faiths talking among yourselves about not having bread?
9 You don’t think nor remember the five rolls for 5,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
10 Nor the seven rolls for 4,000 and how many baskets you gathered?
11 How do you not think?—because I’m not talking to you about bread!
Pay attention to the Pharisees and Sadducees’ yeast.”
12 Then the students realized Jesus wasn’t saying to pay attention to bread yeast,
but the teaching of Pharisees and Sadducees.

It’s an all-too-common human problem: We get so fixated on immediate concerns, we miss the bigger, eternal point.

And that’s still true of Christians who read this passage, get some really funny ideas about yeast, and again miss Jesus’s entire point. And wind up misinterpreting other parts of the bible too.

The yeast code.

Too many Christians treat Jesus’s parables and analogies as if they’re some kind of secret code.

There’s this teaching I’ve heard from various sources. I don‘t know where it came from; I just know it’s entirely bogus. It’s the claim the people of Jesus’s day actually had a code by which they interpreted parables, analogies, and apocalypses. It was lost in the centuries since. (So lost, there’s no historical record of it whatsoever, no hint of it in any first-century literature, so it looks exactly like these teachers made up this entire claim.) Therefore whenever Jesus told a parable, or John shared some freaky vision, their listeners and readers could refer to their biblical imagery codebook, and know precisely what they meant. And these teachers, who claim they’ve reverse-engineered the codebook, are pretty sure what they meant too.

Pure fiction. But the theory really appeals to people who’d rather refer to codebooks than do as Jesus rebuked his students for not doing: THINK. Use your noggin! His analogies aren’t that hard to figure out… unless we’re deliberately being dense.

Yet because Christians are all too fond of playing connect-the-dots with everything, bible included, they figure “yeast” in every circumstance therefore means “evil.” Automatically. Because Jesus said to beware of it.

So what’s it mean when Jesus taught this?

Luke 13.20-21 KWL
20 Jesus said again, “What’s God’s kingdom like? 21 It’s like yeast.
A woman who had it, mixed it into three tubs of dough [80 pounds] till it leavened it all.”

So… is God’s kingdom evil?

I would hope you answered no. Yet there are some folks who are so wedded to their bible-code theory, so insistent upon their connect-the-dots thinking, they read the Yeast in Dough Story… and spin it 180 degrees away from what Jesus means. God’s kingdom, they claim, until Jesus returns to fix it, is infested with evil. There’s yeast all over it. That’s what he must’ve meant. Beware the yeast!

Ugh. Don’t do that. Read your bibles and use your heads, not some nimrod’s unsubstantiated theory.

Enough about this; let’s get back to what Jesus is talking about.

The yeast of hypocrisy.

The Pharisees’ typical problem with Jesus is he had little respect for their traditions, customs, and interpretations of the Law. And of course he didn’t; Jesus is the LORD who handed down the Law in the first place, and knows exactly what he meant by it. The Pharisees’ interpretations, preserved in the Mishna and still followed by many Jews today, are half about being too strict and legalistic, and half about finding exceptions to the rules they could crawl through.

Neither attitude reflects that of God; they reflect corrupt human nature. But Pharisees claimed their customs were totally about following God. So, hypocrisy.

And whenever Jesus violated their customs so he could accurately reflect God’s will and truly follow God, it bugged Pharisees because it exposed how shallow and twisted their religion was. But of course they claimed it was really about the pursuit of righteousness. They were obedient to their elders; Jesus was not. They were right; he’s wrong.

It’s this hypocrisy that infested Pharisee teaching like yeast in dough. It was everywhere. It was the main reason they challenged Jesus, ignoring the common advise to respect their elders (since statistically, Jesus was older than average), and claiming his miracles were devilish. They didn’t wanna do as he taught; they didn’t like how he closed all their loopholes and expected better of them. Expects better of us too. (Nor is he a fan of any of the new loopholes we invented.)

Y’might notice how Jesus mentions Herod’s yeast in Mark—and Antipas Herod isn’t even in this story. But maybe he or his followers were in town; Mark just never brought it up. Certain Christians figure the Herod reference suggests “yeast” has to do with worldly power and political goals. Well kinda; politicians tend to be hypocrites too, ’cause they’ll do anything to gain and keep power. Something Christians oughta also be careful of, lest we swap God’s kingdom for the world’s.