Right around this time two years ago, Mason and I were sitting in a cafe in the south of France, eating baguette number 7,345 of our second “babymoon” (geez, who even comes up with these terms?!). There’s something about those bread products in France: the perfect combination of a crispy, beautiful golden and browning exterior and the perfect little air pockets when you rip it open.
If you gave up bread for Lent, I sincerely apologize.
When we returned home from our trip, unable to find the perfect baguette anywhere in DC (if you know where to find it SEND ME AN EMAIL WITH THIS INFO IMMEDIATELY), we of course set out to make it ourselves....and we (mostly) failed miserably. While Mason’s attempts were admittedly better, my baguettes resembled a dense police baton.
Most likely, my leaven was off.
In today’s passage, Jesus must’ve had bread on the mind, too. On the heels of his miraculous feeding of the four thousand, Jesus warns those with him to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The Pharisees were known for strictly observing the purity laws both inside and outside of the temple and for placing the letter of the law above its spirit (Matthew 15:1-9). They were judgmental, self-righteous and self-absorbed (Matthew 23). They prayed outside, loudly, for all to hear. They “argue[d] with [Jesus], seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him” (Mark 8:11). And most heartbreakingly, Jesus even says that they “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13).
This hard-heartedness, this inability to understand the spirit of the law, this unwillingness to admit their own need and recognize the very one who could supply all their needs, may very well be why Mark tells us that Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit” (Mark 8:11). And it is this leaven that Jesus warns his followers of, and of which we must be wary, too.
We must be wary of our own self-righteousness. We must be wary of our own inability to admit our brokenness and need. We must be wary of seeking the answer to our need from our own abilities, when right in front of us is the person of Jesus (in this way, we often mimic the followers in the boat in verses 14-21, who complained about their lack of bread after witnessing Jesus feed 4,000 people!). We must be wary of rote religion that involves no interaction with the person of Jesus. And just as bad leaven keeps the bread from expanding out, we must be wary of how our hard-hearted self-righteousness actually shuts the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
So what does good leaven look like? Interestingly, we see one picture of it right here in this same passage in verse 22. There we read about a group of people bringing a blind man to Jesus and begging him to touch him. Begging him.
I don’t know their story. I don’t know exactly why this group of people brought this particular man to Jesus. But I do know that their hearts could not have been hard towards Jesus; they knew of his power and wanted it for this man, after all. I know that they desperately wanted this man to encounter Jesus. They wanted him to be healed and transformed.
What would our city look like if we longed to be this same sort of leaven? What if we unashamedly admitted our own need in a city that is about everything but “neediness”? What if we desperately wanted the hurting, sick people in our life to be transformed by a touch from Jesus, just as we have been? What if we gathered together as a community to come alongside people and walked with them to Jesus?
What if we more desperately wanted our city to taste with us of the goodness of the Bread of Life?
The whole loaf would be transformed.
Liz Laird lives in the greater-Brookland neighborhood with her husband Mason and two sons, Henry and Roy. She is currently helping to start a nonprofit. She is also (still) really bad at making bread, but you should try her chocolate chip cookies.