July 19, 2012 by jmar198013
This is a Lord’s Supper talk I presented in November of last year. My inspiration came from Ched Myers’ comments on the passage selected for that morning’s table thoughts.
Now, the disciples had forgotten to bring any loaves; all they had in the boat with them was one loaf. And Jesus warned them: “Look out! Keep your distance from the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” The disciples were discussing their lack of bread among themselves, and Jesus overheard them. He said to them: “Why are you talking about not having any bread? Has nothing gotten through to you dimwits? Are you just being stubborn? Are you willfully blind and obstinately deaf? Are you intentionally suppressing memories? Remember when I fed five thousand people on five loaves of bread—how many basketfuls of leftovers did you gather?” “Twelve,” they replied. “Okay, what about when I fed four thousand people on seven loaves—how many baskets did you gather then?” “Seven,” they replied. “When will you ever learn?” Jesus sighed. (Mark 8.14-21)
Thirteen people on a boat, Jesus and his twelve disciples. And only one loaf of bread between them. Remarkable thing is, they’d just had in their possession seven baskets of bread, left over from the feeding miracle. But the loaves had been forgotten. Text tells us that the disciples were “discussing” the bread shortage among themselves. Most likely “discussing” is too mild a word. I imagine it sounded more like this: “What? You left all seven baskets at the dock? Some stewardship committee you are, Judas!” I’m sure we’ve all been involved in “discussions” of that sort, whether on family road trips or in church budget meetings. We’ve all been in the same boat as the disciples.
What did Jesus say when he overheard their discussion? Not what you’d expect. You’d expect him to remind them that they were traveling with someone who just got finished feeding four thousand people on seven loaves of bread. Fed them until their bellies were full. Seven baskets of leftovers. Oh, he got there—eventually. But his first response takes the form of a cryptic warning: “Look out! Beware the leaven of the Pharisees! Beware the leaven of Herod!” The disciples are worried about what they’re going to eat for dinner, and Jesus is going off about brands of yeast. We’re in the same boat as the disciples. I bet we could swap stories with them about Jesus’ unexpected responses to our concerns. We come to Jesus needy, he tells us to give. We come to him with hearts full of adultery, he tells us to pluck out our eyes. We come to him wounded and afraid, he tells us to love our enemies. But at least those responses are in the vicinity of our problems. “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod!” is way out in left field. Completely off-topic. He could have just said, “Hush! I just fed four thousand people with seven loaves of bread. Don’t you think one loaf is plenty for thirteen?”
But maybe Jesus wasn’t off-topic at all. Maybe “beware the leaven of the Pharisees!” was the most appropriate thing to be said with thirteen people and one loaf between them. They really did need to avoid the leaven of the Pharisees. In the gospel of Mark, it seems like the Pharisees’ favorite pastime was spoiling meals. They showed up, mealtimes turned into meltdowns. They tore into Jesus for sharing bread with sinners. They insulted the disciples for eating with unwashed hands. Told Jesus his disciples were a bunch of lawbreakers because they gleaned a field on a Sabbath when they were hungry. They were always looking to exclude others from the table. “We don’t share meals with those sorts of people.” Or, “Those people who aren’t like us aren’t welcome in this establishment.” Or, “The poor can glean the edges of our fields, but not on a Sabbath, and we’re certainly not going let them eat from our table!” Thirteen people on a boat sharing one loaf of bread provides quite a contrast to the Pharisees. That’s a picture of inclusion—Jesus finds ways to create a place at the table for everyone. He wants everyone to be filled. He encourages a sharing that model’s God’s inclusiveness and abundance. If we’re going to be a “one-loaf” people, the yeast of the Pharisees is one guest we cannot make room for at our table.
If the leaven of the Pharisees is exclusion, the leaven of Herod is accommodating the status quo. It’s becoming all things to all people, not that any might be saved, but just so you can be like everyone else. Herod built an impressive temple, no doubt, but then let the Romans choose the high priests. The Herodians did and allowed all sorts of nasty things to be done as long as their way of life could continue on undisturbed. That’s why Herod had absolutely no patience for the oddly-dressed, locust-eating wildman prophet John the Baptist. John stirred up the people, and that was dangerous. Herod had to lock him up for not being a team player. Of course, there is a place at Herod’s table for a dangerous agitator like John the Baptist: his head ends up on the platter. The pernicious thing about the leaven of Herod is that it seems to be the opposite of the Pharisees’ exclusion. It claims to offer integration, tolerance, and civility. But those come at a price: in exchange for peace and security, you have to give up your distinctiveness. A “one-loaf” people challenges the political and cultural assumptions of Herod. For such a people, peace does not come when we sacrifice our particular identities to become team players. Rather, the peace of a “one-loaf” people is that we’ve learned that our particularities don’t have to be occasions for conflict, but avenues for sharing. A “one-loaf” people accepts that our differences are really signs of God’s inclusion and abundance.
So this morning, we’re all in the same boat as the disciples—Jesus in our midst, just one loaf for all of us to share. Let us recall as we break this bread and pass it around that Jesus makes room for us at his table and bids us eat and be satisfied. Let us celebrate God’s inclusion and abundance. And let us be given discernment to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod—exclusion and accommodation. Rather, we make room for others at this table, we extend Jesus’ welcome, we bid one another eat and be satisfied. We share from the same loaf, thankful to Jesus for his welcome and generosity by calling us together in our differences to his table.
Bread: Jesus, you modeled your Father’s abundance by breaking up a little bread and passing it around until thousands had their fill. And still there were leftovers! May your Spirit empower us to trust that abundance. Amen.
Cup: Jesus, we are often so hard-hearted and blind, deaf and devoid of truthful memory. We refuse to grasp that your Father’s abundance sustains us. Forgive us, for we do often choose the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Pour your Spirit into us that we might have soft hearts and truthful memories to recall your model of inclusion and abundance. Amen.