The Bread of Life
It warms my heart to have the opportunity to welcome you in the loving and powerful name of our Lord Jesus Christ. During this time of social distancing, I have taken an interest in the love and affection that the Apostle Paul shares with his beloved church communities through the Epistles that he wrote to them. Like Paul, I miss you all dearly and am so uplifted when I hear reports about how you are doing. I look forward to the time when we can share in worship and conversation once again. May the Holy Spirit continue to connect us spiritually during this season, where we cannot be together physically.
I have heard numerous reports over the past few weeks on how many people are embracing the art and science of baking bread during the quarantine. As someone who struggles with following recipes and works better off taste, I am not a good bread baker. I have, however, been in prayer over this Scripture from the Gospel of Matthew on how to apply the lessons of baking bread, particularly in how one works in the yeast, to the ways in which I live my life in service to God.
Matthew 16 1-5 (NRSV)
The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, "When it is evening, you say 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away. When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, "Watch out, and beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."
One of the amazing things about bread is that it only takes a very small amount of yeast, or leaven, to transform a seemingly lifeless lump of dough into a risen mound of pre-baked bread. As the yeast is kneaded into the dough, it immediately begins to metabolize the sugars in the flour and creates CO2, which makes the bread rise. Why did Jesus use this analogy in the Scripture above to warn his Disciples about the Pharisees and Sadducees? What does the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees represent here? When we look at the interaction that Jesus had with them right before sharing this wisdom with his Disciples, we can see that something had become clear to Jesus. There was an obvious fault in the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ frame of mind, which was preventing them from seeing the truth that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah. In a sense, their entire way of looking at the world was backward, and so they could not see the miracle in front of them because they were looking for something else. They were expecting a messiah, not at all like Jesus. These teachers of the law interpreted the prophecies about the Messiah and, rather than being open to what God was doing through Christ, created an expectation based on their narrow understanding and desires. Jesus was not a fulfillment of their interpretation, and so they denied him.
The warning to us in this passage would be to beware of internalizing the teachings of these Pharisees and Sadducees. Their misunderstood interpretation of the law would act as yeast in our lives if we accept even a small amount, transforming who we are and keeping us from noticing God’s work in the world. What are some teachings or perspectives in our lives today that could be a danger to our ability to perceive God’s Kingdom? Are there miracles that we fail to recognize because they do not fit our expectations of what a miracle should be? Are there individuals that we are listening to in this world who might be leading us astray? How would we even know what to believe and what not to believe?
The answers for each of us can be found through thoughtful prayer and the study of Jesus’ words. We also have a valuable piece of wisdom that Jesus shared through the two greatest commandments:
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” -Matthew 22:37-40
Friends, we are so blessed to have this wisdom to guide our lives. As we continue to consider what we allow to govern our lives and our actions, let us be vigilant in asking ourselves whether it is helping us fulfill these two great commandments. Even a small amount of anger, hatred, or regret can completely change our perspective and, like yeast to the dough, transform our lives in ways we may not want them to. Yet if we knead love, compassion, and empathy deep within our hearts, we will be blessed by the transformation that takes place.
May love and grace fill your lives today and transform your perspective.
Rev. Tom Henderson Owens
Executive Pastor of Ministries