At first glance today’s readings left me weakened in spirit and confused. In the passage from Genesis I thought I saw a vengeful yet just God. In the selection from the Gospel of Mark I found myself in the same confused state about Jesus’ words as the apostles.
Like Noah I experience a God who is active in the world, but the God that touches me from the inside does not in my experience use death and destruction as tools. I seem to be guided by a God who transforms the world by touching people’s hearts.
Today’s Gospel is subsequent to a set of text where Jesus has twice in a miraculous way brought bread to the masses and most recently has been called upon by the Pharisees for another sign. In this context I can easily understand the confusion of the apostles. I can see that a reference to leaven could be understood as a reference to the bread on hand. Jesus chastises the apostles for this view. Again this is not the way that I am used to imagining my God.
On further reflection I think the key for my understanding may grow out of something that has lost its significance to the modern world. Leaven (yeast) is remarkable in the way a very small amount, over time, causes a profound change in both appearance and taste. I grew up in Milwaukee. In those days there were a number of major brewers in the city. The yeast used in the brewing process was a proprietary item. A different yeast gave a different flavor. Similarly, I can remember when bread was still occasionally baked at home. The shopping list in those days not only included yeast but also specified which brand. The kind of yeast was as important to the end product as the kind of flour. (These differences are likely the reason I still prefer bread from an artisan bakery to that found on the grocer’s shelves.)
Jesus tells the apostles to guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. In the case of the Pharisees I read this as a warning against allowing our interactions with God to be transformed into a set of rules. In the case of the Herod I read this as a warning against allowing our interactions with God to be transformed into the interactions of a secular world. We need to be choosing the right yeast. The new yeast that Jesus seems to implicitly offer brings a transformation but it keeps the focus of our interactions on our relationship with the transcendent.
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.” I feel I may be finding some of that peace. I see two readings that call for transformation on a grand scale. In giving up some literalism (the way of the Pharisees) in my reading, I find myself reinforced in my view that God carries out cleansing by transforming hearts.
My prayer today is for an awareness of where an “extreme makeover” (conversion) is needed. I pray for openness in finding the right “yeast” (transformative direction).
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