“Watch out!” Jesus warned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” [Matthew 16:6 (NLT)]
In Biblical days, rather than using a packet of Fleishman’s yeast for leavening, people kneaded a small amount of old fermented dough called a starter or seor into fresh dough. When a yeast starter gets contaminated by bacteria, however, it gets a moldy odor of decay and, if mixed into new dough, its foulness will spread; the resulting bread will be unpleasant and inedible.
We’re all familiar with Jesus’ warning to the disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees. They weren’t bakers so what was their yeast? I’d always thought of it as the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and false teachings. And, while both of those can spread and spoil like bad leavening, I think there’s more to his caution.
The Pharisees and Sadducees, disregarding all of Jesus’ previous miracles, had demanded an impressive miraculous display from Him. Jesus wasn’t an entertainer and His miracles were never for show. Knowing nothing would convince the religious leaders, He refused and left. Shortly after that, Jesus and the disciples departed to the other side of the lake. It was when the disciples realized they’d failed to bring provisions that Jesus first warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees. Thinking He was talking about bread, they then started arguing with one another about not having anything to eat. Imagine their conversation as they pointed accusing fingers at one another for having no food—each man trying to shift the blame for the oversight to someone else. Totally misunderstanding Jesus’ warning, they were bickering about bread and worrying about their next meal when Jesus had just fed thousands with only a few loaves and fish. Our Lord was probably rolling His eyes at their blind foolishness. Like the Pharisees, what part of His many miracles didn’t they understand? Twice they’d ended up with several baskets of leftovers after feeding a multitude; certainly lack of bread shouldn’t pose a problem for just twelve men. Reminding them of His previous miracles of provision, Jesus told them He wasn’t speaking of bread. When He again told them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, they finally understood He was speaking of their unbelief.
Although Jesus warned them of this very thing before they’d started to argue, like the Pharisees, they ignored what they knew of Him and His miracles. Instead of allowing their belief to grow into trust, they allowed doubt to taint their faith and their relationship with one another in the same way that bad yeast contaminates bread. A little bit of uncertainty and skepticism swelled into fear, anger, and criticism. They were squabbling about bread for supper when they had the bread of life right beside them.
We all must beware the yeast of the Pharisees: not just false teaching and hypocrisy but also lack of trust!
Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation. [D. Elton Trueblood]