Bad Leaven, Bad Bread

Genesis 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10; Mark 8:14-21

When I was a candidate in what was then called the Pre-Novitiate Program of our province, I lived in a large community that had its share of “characters.”  As part of the program, we were encouraged to learn some new skills that could benefit the rest of the fraternity.  One of the candidates, an older guy, decided to learn how to bake bread.  His skills as a baker were only exceeded by his self-assurance.  

One day a younger candidate walked into the kitchen as his older classmate was preparing the yeast for his next batch of bread.  He asked the older man whether he was sure that mixing his yeast with boiling water was the right thing to do.  Almost insulted, the older candidate insisted that he knew what he was doing and proceeded to mix his now boiled yeast into the dough. 

When the loaves emerged from the oven with a rich golden crust, the older candidate was ready to crow about his baking prowess.  The bread looked good.  But on closer inspection, he (and we) found that it was very…well, dense.  We found what would really happen if a father gave his son a stone when he asked for bread!  By boiling the water, he had killed the yeast; and that dead yeast had no capacity to help the dough to rise. 

Bad yeast makes bad bread.

When Jesus warned his disciples about “the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” they didn’t understand what he was talking about.   Frustrated, he explained that he wasn’t talking literally but metaphorically.  He wanted them to be aware of the corrupting influences of his opponents.  In the case of the Pharisees, it was their trenchant opposition to him and his ministry, their obsession with the letter of the law, and especially their demands that Jesus produce a sign of his authenticity as the Messiah, even though he had already provided several such signs. 

Not all yeast is bad.  Elsewhere in the gospels (Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20-21), Jesus uses it as a simile for the Kingdom of Heaven—a little goes a long way and enriches the whole loaf. 

Lent is less than three weeks away.  What kind of yeast do you have to share?  What kind of yeast are you ready to receive and have kneaded into your heart and mind? –JC