The Yeast of the Pharisees and Herod

Today we talk about bread, sort of, in Mark 8:14-21.

So, for the millionth time, Jesus and the disciples get in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. And someone forgot to pack the snacks. Rude. Just one loaf for all the disciples and Jesus! What are they gonna do!?… wait.

“Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!” So, I thought these guys were fisherman and tax-collectors, not bakers. What is Jesus really saying here? This is the first time such a thing is mentioned. Is there some historical precedent?

Well, the Jews were to forego bread with yeast during Passover as a reminder of what God did for them in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. At the time, in Exodus 12:8 God tells the Jews that they need to avoid the leavening process because they are going to need to leave in a hurry.

To better understand, the way that yeast was added to bread was through the collection of wild yeast by placing a small part of the dough to sit for a while. By not performing this action the bread could be made an hour or so faster, which would need to be done if one were to need bread quickly.

In other words, yeast is something bad here because it’s saying that the Jews didn’t trust God to do what He said He would. It would mean not taking God seriously. It would mean unbelief in God’s word.

Considering the Pharisees just asked for a sign from Jesus and constantly challenge Him, it is logical to suggest that the yeast Jesus speaks of is the same implied unbelief from Exodus. Therefore, beware the unbelief of the Pharisees and Herod. They will challenge you and try to trick you, as they have done to Jesus.

The rest of this story is about the disciples completely missing the warning. Jesus warns of yeast, and the disciples think he’s talking literally. However, instead of explaining what Jesus actually meant, he addresses the literal discussion. “Why are you talking about not having enough bread!? Haven’t you seen me provide food?”

It ends there, “Do you still not understand?” I think that Jesus was pointing out the problem with their literal argument so that they might re-evaluate the previous statement and understand the original statement. Whether they did this or not is not told to us. The question remains then, why is Mark telling us this part of the story?

Jesus is warning the disciples about unbelief and difficulty and they are not understanding him. That seems to be the “moral” of this particular tale. Let us wait until we have the full chapter picture before we go further into the deeper meaning.

Grace and Peace to you all.

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