A recent meeting of the G-20, that group of nations whose economic policies tend to drive the world’s economy, met with the usual protesters in the streets. The groups that represent the “anarchists” movements are always prominent and always vocal and violent. Well, I guess that makes sense if you feel the only way to human freedom is to destroy current political and economic systems.
The human vacillation between all encompassing structure and antinomianism (no laws) is legendary and history is replete with examples of the overreaching of both extremes. From the highly ritualized and intricate behaviors of royal courts to the wild, wild West, the pendulum usually swings from one end to the other eventually in every human society.
No wonder our Lord gives the warning He does to His disciples in today’s Gospel Lesson. And no wonder these dear men quickly misunderstand. I have such love and affinity with these disciples of Jesus and learn so much about how to interact with people from the Lord’s interaction with His future Apostles.
Listen to the Lesson: “The Lord said to his disciples, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ And they discussed it among themselves, saying, ‘We brought no bread.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said. ‘O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6-12
Now this would be high comedy if it weren’t so serious. The Lord mentions the “leaven of the Pharisees” and the disciples start discussing among themselves that they hadn’t bought any bread from anybody!
Leaven makes the dough rise. And just like leaven, the theology of this or that group has an equal consequence in the lives of the followers. It’s like the old computer programer axiom – Garbage in – Garbage out! Bad programming produces bad programs.
But the Lord means so much more. In Luke 12:1 He reveals that the “leaven of the Pharisees” is hypocrisy. And the particular poverty of hypocrisy isn’t so much bad teaching as bad motives and love of the teaching rather than the benefit the teaching brings real people. The weakness of the Pharisees wasn’t their theology so much as their loss of focus on the people and their obsessive focus on the rule-keeping rather than the soul of their neighbors. They got tripped up by their slavish focus on the rules rather than the Giver of the wisdom they so religiously observed.
Today, be aware of the delicate balance between a serious commitment to the wisdom of the faith and actually practicing the faith and Her wise disciplines and the refusal to reduce the faith to mere rule-keeping. This is especially true in how you treat others. Your motives for obedience and sincere piety are always to be inspected and brutally discerned. The “leaven of the Pharisees” is deadly precisely because it looks outwardly like true piety, but the fruit of the “leaven of the Pharisees” never produces love or humility. It just produces self-righteousness and judgement of others.
Today, be gentle with everyone you meet, because everyone is fighting a hard battle. Be committed to a self awareness that truly longs to follow the disciplines of the faith based on your deep love and desire to be with God. Fight the tendency to either an outward strictness or (worse yet) disregarding the wisdom of the faith so as not to be a Pharisee, and seek to lovingly offer your daily life to God in prayer and to your neighbor. Stay awake today to the twin poverty of mere rule-keeping or lawlessness. Do this today and you will be free.