The Perils of Yeast

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm [83] or 23, 27 (Morning)
Psalm 85, 86 (Evening)
1 Macc. 1:1-28
Rev. 19:1-10
Matt. 16:1-12

The Perils of Yeast

In today’s gospel, Jesus warns his disciples to “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” I don’t know about the disciples, but Jesus doesn’t have to tell me twice to watch out for yeast! As someone with low confidence in the kitchen, I’m terrified of yeast. So much can go wrong when we try to use it: water too hot can kill it, a room too cold will slow it down, the yeast might be inactive, the bubbles might get too big, etc. I’ll just stick with recipes that call for baking soda, thank you very much.

The problems with yeast for the disciples, though, aren’t directly related to baking. First, the yeast metaphor causes them to think too literally. When Jesus asks them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they think Jesus is mad at them for bringing no bread. Growing impatient with them, Jesus asks, “How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread?” And he repeats, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Finally, something clicks: the disciples realize that Jesus isn’t talking about bread, but about the teachings of Pharisees and Sadducees that might mislead them.

But the other problem with yeast is that Jesus uses it as both a negative and positive symbol. On the one hand, it’s a symbol of teachings that can infect an otherwise wholesome and nourishing faith. On the other hand, it’s a mysterious symbol of the kingdom of God. As Jesus put it a few chapters earlier, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” In this case, yeast is the hidden energy of the kingdom, slowly filling and raising this world into something more buoyant and sustaining than it was before.

Yeast is tricky. It has to be treated just so. It is, after all, a living thing, and not just a functional ingredient. It’s neither good nor bad in itself. Its virtue lies in what it helps us to perceive about the hidden, living energies of our world, and how they endanger or uplift us. Maybe our kitchen adventures and mishaps have more to teach us about the gospel than we know.

Written by The Rev. Dr. Lora Walsh, Associate Priest

Lora is passionate about building inclusive communities and nurturing the spirituality of contemplatives-in-action. She holds a PhD in Medieval Christianity and is an assistant professor of English at the University of Arkansas. On Sundays, you can find her either at the altar or in the back pew with her family, including Zadok (5) and Aletta (3).

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