We're still in Mark. Last week we covered Jesus feeding five thousand men and their families with five loaves of bread and two fish. Today I read about His feeding four thousand with seven loaves and a few fish. A pair of well-known stories, but what amazes me are the reactions afterward - particularly of his disciples, who still don't quite seem to understand Who this man is that they're following.
As if almost any interesting teacher can turn five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed five thousand men with 12 baskets of food leftover.
You know, they see that every day, which is why it's such a shock to see a man walking on water. Because there's something that can't be explained (I mean, I know it's shocking - but what make it the final straw, really?).
So, after he feeds the four thousand, the Pharisees approach him demanding "a sign" - an undeniable indication that He has actually come from Heaven - because all these other party tricks - healing lepers, casting out demons, feeding multitudes, raising the dead - anyone could do that. Well, Jesus isn't about proving Himself to the eyes - He's interested in a heart-deep understanding. And if hearing what He has to say has no effect on their understanding of Him, seeing what He can do won't do much for them either. So He denies their request.
Later, in the boat with His disciples, He warns them of "the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." To which they respond in their eloquent wisdom by arguing with each other over the last loaf of bread - because Heaven knows there's not enough to feed those 13 men on that one boat.
In fact, Heaven does know exactly how much bread they have. And Heaven knows they just watched this man they're following feed a total of nine thousand men with a grand total of twelve loaves of bread and they still don't get it. They still don't get, as my ESV study notes put it, that this man in the boat with them is "none other than the eternal creator and giver of life."
They still think He's talking about food.
And they still don't get that if it's the food they're worried about, He'll always be able to provide for it. He is always willing and able to provide for the physical needs.
But His priority, as He proves time and again - not the least of which in feeding these throngs of people through a miracle rather than sending them away so they can all be sustained with nutrients and rest, seeing that the sustenance they need can only be found in His presence, in His words - His priority is to meet the spiritual needs of the people.
And what Jesus is warning them against in speaking of the leaven of Pharisees and Herod, is about taking to heart the worldly wisdom of even "religious" leaders and kings. The puffed up teachings about the outward life that do little to sustain true life.
Do we hear that warning?
Do we truly understand that God is so much more concerned with what goes into our hearts than what goes into our bodies?
Do our prayers reflect His priorities? Or how much of what we fall on our knees about pertains to our physical needs, comfort, safety? And, conversely, how much of what we take to His feet regards the spiritual needs of our friends, our family, our nation, our planet, ourselves? Does our ratio reflect His?
And in this culture of organic, un-processed, clean, trans-fat-free, non-GMO, no-artificial-sweetener obsession, how concerned are we, by comparison, by what is entering our hearts?
Because we gladly fill ourselves up with the puff of this world - what the news articles tell us, what the entertainment industry feeds us, what the blogs list for us - knowledge, knowledge, knowledge. Leaven, leaven, leaven. And while we're watching every morsel that enters our mouths we're missing the boatloads of trash that are entering our hearts.
And Jesus is saying, "Do you not yet understand?!"
Let our hardened hearts be softened to the true message He came to give. No amount of physical provision and outward change can ever satisfy what our hearts truly crave - the nearness of the eternal creator and giver of life.
Beware the leaven.