Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Mark 8:14–21

Mark 8:14–21 (ESV): The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod


When it comes to the differences between different Protestant denominations, or between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christians and Mormons, or between Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology, I think a lot of our disagreements come from differences of opinion as to when a specific passage should be taken literally vs. taken figuratively. This is a very blatant example of Jesus using a metaphor which his disciples think should be taken literally.

The metaphor is that Jesus warns the disciples to beware of “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (verse 15 (ESV)). What he means is that the disciples should beware of the teachings of the Pharisees and Herod; the ESV Study Bible notes say that he is referring to their self-centred self-reliance, which I think is a good explanation. (They also point out 1 Corinthians 5:6–7 (ESV), where we’re told that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” which also seems applicable here.)

Unfortunately, the disciples have forgotten to bring bread and have only one loaf to share, and this seems to be on their minds, so they assume that Jesus is telling them this because they have no bread. They seem to think that Jesus is worried that they’re going to borrow yeast from the Pharisees or Herod to make some more.

Jesus is not amused, however.

And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 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.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (verses 16–21 (ESV))


This passage is remarkable, to me, simply because of how short Jesus is with the disciples. It’s one of those passages where you can just hear the tone of Jesus’ voice, when he asks them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?” He’s exasperated with them; why does he have to keep explaining things to them? Why are they not understanding? Why are they so slow of heart? It’s true that he’s not using the type of scathing language he uses with the Pharisees, whom he calls vipers and hypocrites and other such names, but he is clearly expecting that the disciples should understand what he is saying in this instance, and they don’t.

To me, there is a simple and obvious lesson that comes from this passage: When we read our Bibles, we should really pray for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and our ears, to hear what is being said and to see the truth of it. We may have no idea what spiritual lessons we’re missing; we won’t know that we missed them until we understand, and then we can look back and realize that we’d been misunderstanding them. It’s true that we don’t have Jesus physically here with us, to explain our misunderstandings and correct our mistakes, but the Bible tells us that we don’t need that—we have the Word, and we have the Holy Spirit. We just have to make use of these gifts.

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