Morning Musing: Mark 8:14-16

“The disciples had forgotten to take bread and had only one loaf with them in the boat. Then he gave them strict orders: ‘Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ They were discussing among themselves that they did not have any bread.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Most days, when I get home from an event in the evenings, I just grab my stuff out of the car and head inside. Sometimes, though, I stop on the way in and look up. Where I live, although we have a bright street light in our front yard that I wish wasn’t there, we are far enough out in the country that light pollution is pretty minimal. On clear nights, when you look up, the stars are pretty spectacular. It’s one of those things that’s always there, but that you don’t always notice. It’s amazing how often we miss things that are right in front of our faces. The disciples regularly did that. Let’s learn from their cluelessness.

Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees really bothered Him. I think it’s a mark of His full humanity that we see things like this in the Gospels. While He never sinned in any way, He was fully human. There were times people got under His skin. This was one of them.

After Jesus refused to play ball with the Pharisees over their request for a sign, the group loaded up and headed back across the Sea of Galilee. Along the way, the disciples realized none of them remembered to bring extra bread for the journey. They were hungry and perhaps a bit hangry, not to mention embarrassed, and so they started arguing among themselves as to who was to blame for the slip.

Jesus took the opportunity to have a teaching moment with them. “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

Now, theologians and preachers have dissected what Jesus meant here in every way they possibly could. My take is that Jesus was warning them against the kind of worldly thinking that was represented in its two major forms by these different groups. The Pharisees dressed theirs in a garb of self-righteousness. They pretended to be committed to God – and at some level they really were – but were really just out for their own power and position. Herod, on the other hand, was all power and personality. He didn’t pretend any meaningful devotion to God. His devotion was to man, specifically the emperor. When our devotion begins to slip from God, this false thinking can gradually poison everything else in our lives just like a bit of yeast works its way through a whole batch of dough. It’s an important lesson to learn.

And the disciples completely missed it.

As soon as Jesus said it, they started talking about bread again. They thought Jesus was fussing at them about forgetting bread. They were so focused on the concerns of the moment that they couldn’t understand what Jesus was trying to say to them. The stars were shining, but they couldn’t see them. They were so focused on looking down at what was right under their noses that they missed the glorious show on display right where they could see it if they would just look.

I wonder, how often do we miss what is right in front of our faces? How often do we get so consumed by the concerns of the moment that we miss out entirely on Jesus’ invitations to deeper spiritual growth? This is far too easy to do without realizing we’ve done it. And we really don’t get any help from the culture around us. Our culture’s constant proclamation and encouragement is for us to put ourselves first. This isn’t a new phenomenon either. The famous McDonald’s slogan for almost 30 years was, “You deserve a break today.” Take time for yourself. Create some margin to get what you want. Do your own thing. The latest iteration is that we should be able to define everything about ourselves all the way down to our gender. The disciples were just distracted by bread.

So, what’s the solution to this? We have to look up. When we are looking down and at ourselves all the time, our world begins to shrink. It shrinks down until it is no bigger than just ourselves. We may be able to make things mostly to our liking when we do that, but a universe of one is a pretty lonely place. At least when God was by Himself before the creation of the world He was a trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit and could keep Himself company. The trouble with living in our own little universe, though, is that when something goes wrong, we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves. It turns out, we’re not so good at managing the world.

Instead of looking down, then, we need to look up. We need to look out. We need to shift our focus to the people around us, not to tell them what they’re doing wrong, but to appreciate them for who they are. We need to learn to see through grateful eyes of faith that are primed to take in the world as it really is – broken, but beautiful. We need to learn hear with ears tuned to the gentle whisper of our Lord, calling us all the time to live fully with the abundance of His kingdom. Engaging with Scriptures and developing a good rhythm of prayer in our lives will help with these efforts more than just about anything else. So will gathering regularly with others for worship and fellowship and study and prayer and service – in other words, being committed to and active in a church community. Jesus has something for us. He’s working intentionally and diligently to shape us by the Holy Spirit to more fully reflect the image of the Father. We’ve just got to tune in.

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