Leaven of Life or Death?

First the Word of Life and then some reflection which might edify.

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Mark 8.1-21

[1] In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him, and said to them,
[2] “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat;
[3] and if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come a long way.”
[4] And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these men with bread here in the desert?”
[5] And he asked them, “How many loaves have you?” They said, “Seven.”
[6] And he commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd.
[7] And they had a few small fish; and having blessed them, he commanded that these also should be set before them.
[8] And they ate, and were satisfied; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
[9] And there were about four thousand people.
[10] And he sent them away; and immediately he got into the boat with his disciples, and went to the district of Dalmanu’tha.
[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 shall be given to this generation.”
[13] And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed 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, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
[16] And they discussed it with one another, saying, “We have no bread.”
[17] And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss 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?”

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Bread nourishes and nurtures. By the right relationship we foster with it we are not only fed but encouraged as well. The first aspect is easy to understand. Of course bread nourishes. But, how does it nurture? Bread presupposes a baker and a host. Bread is a provision proceeds from someone to desires to feed to the one who is in need of nourishment. So, the bread nurtures a sense of care and compassion – love. Not only that but the eating of the bread is occurs, ideally, in community. “Let us break bread together.” The eating of bread is a giving and receiving between the provider and the recipient AND an opportunity for those who need the bread to communion with one another. All of this is nurture.

Physical bread consecrated by and to God accomplishes this. This is bread in fullness. This is Eucharistic bread. It is not “merely bread” or even “special bread.” It is “God/bread.”

This is the leaven that saves – Sincerity and Truth – the outpouring and inpouring of love. The yeast that saves. (1 Co. 5.8)

The “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” does none of these things. Indeed, it does the opposite of all of them. This leaven is based on merit. It is always testing and seeking to condemn. It is about proving something to someone in order to gain acceptance. It is a symbol of corruption and the contagion of death.

Jesus warns the disciples regarding this leaven. It looks good on the outside but is rotten on the inside. It promises to nurture and nourish but never satisfies the need for either. He promises, over and over, to provide grace to not only remember the warning but fast from sin and death and feast on righteousness and life.

The “leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” is the desire to gain nourishment and nurture from being relevant, spectacular, and powerful to prove something. Shockingly, Jesus is not out to prove anything to anybody.  Jesus is out to love and, in so doing, save the world and everyone in it. For those who have eyes to see, these “signs” are the signs of the Messiah. They are signs that proceed from love and are love instead of signs that originate from a desire to prove something and convince the unconvinced.

Tests to qualify in sight of another vs. the outpouring of love that simply testifies of Truth. The question is not if Jesus does or does not perform signs. The question is why and from where do they proceed? The biggest difference possible. The difference between heaven and hell.

The invitation and mandate for us is to seek the Messiah not the signs. If we spend our time as “sign seekers and inspectors” we will miss the Messiah. For those who are truly seeking God and His salvation, the words and actions of God confirm what they already have concluded, this is the Messiah of God. They will receive the Messiah. The need is to need God so much that His simple appearance as “He Who Is Who He Is,” is enough. The need is to trust God not a specific form and shape of sign – spectacular, relevant, and powerful. After all, some of the most significant signs God has offered have not been spectacular, relevant, and powerful as we measure them. And, those, if we look at our life with clarity, are the ones that have served to save us.

The true signs are the ones, we realize, through which we were nourished and nurtured by the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus – “the bread of life … the fountain of immortality. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia ! !”

Let us embark, this Lenten season, on a pilgrimage of fasting from the leaven of the Pharisees, hidden in the patterns and practices of our everyday life and seek to feast on the leaven of immortality by searching for it in the present patterns and practices of our everyday life and new patterns and practices offer to us by the Holy Tradition. Let us embark on this Lenten season not to perform signs that prove, but to engage in practices that bear the fruit of the release of the love of God that has been poured into our hearts.

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