An Exercise in Missing the Point


Today’s reading was Mark 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat.15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”


This was a passage for which I needed to reach for a commentary. I wanted to understand what exactly this bad yeast was, that Jesus was warning the disciples about. From the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Matthew, Mark, Luke):

“Here, as generally in Scripture, yeast is a symbol of evil, and as only a very small amount of it is necessary to leaven a loaf of bread, so evil has a permeating power. Here the yeast of the Pharisees clearly refers to their desire for a sign from God to validate the actions of Jesus. The yeast of Herod is mentioned because he too (cf. Luke 23:8) desired a sign. Jesus is warning his disciples not to make the same mistake the Pharisees and Herod did. He is appealing to them to understand that the authority he possesses cannot be proved by a sign. Only by faith can they recognize him as the bringer of God’s salvation.” (p.689)

Whenever I encounter a passage like this, where there is a warning, I try to examine myself to see if there is anything in me that is similar to that which Jesus criticizes. Do I seek a sign? Do I sometimes make the mistake of putting God in a box with semi-ultimatums like, “If you really love me, you will _______________ .”(fill in the blank for yourself)

Both this passage, and life experience, has shown me that creating such specific expectations of how God will move, or demonstrate his love for us, is a mistake.

In John chapter 13, Jesus says this:

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.

In using the “I am who I am” phrase, he is obviously and intentionally using the same language that God used to describe himself in Exodus 3:14. It can also be translated as “I will be who I will be.” As in, don’t put me in a box, or try to conform me to your expectations. In our relationship with Jesus, as in any marriage or friendship, it is wise not to create artificial boundaries or expectations on how love will be understood or received, but to take it wherever it is found or expressed.

Just like the disciples, we are capable of seriously misunderstanding Jesus. The huge irony here is that they are worried about not having enough bread, having just seen Jesus miraculously provide break for thousands of people. What they do not understand is that HE is their source, their sustenance, their answer, their salvation. While they are quibbling and trying to assign blame, they are overlooking the solution right in their midst.

In this case, love had been bread. It was incarnation and salvation. It was sitting right next to them.

I’m praying that today, for me as well as for you, my eyes will be open, and my ears too, to notice God’s love right next to me, in whatever form he chooses to show it.

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