by Rev. Fr. George C. Mathew
Gospel: St. Matthew 16:5-12
This week's Gospel passage in St. Matthew 16:5-12 is also recorded in St. Mark 8:14-21. Earlier in chapter 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees approach Christ for a sign from heaven to demonstrate that He was truly the Messiah because the coming of the Messiah was to be accompanied with powerful signs. But, they failed to understand the signs they saw - Christ says their hearts were hardened and blinded to see true spiritual signs. And, Christ was not willing to prove Himself as long as they were trying to test Him. The only sign they would witness would be the sign of the prophet Jonah - a prediction as to Christ's death and Resurrection. Christ leaves them and journeys across to the east side of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee).
As they travel, St. Matthew records that the disciples forgot to take bread, while St. Mark states that they finished the one loaf they had taken. Having just left the Pharisees and Sadducees, and probably a little frustrated at the hardness of their hearts, Christ reminds the disciples to be careful and beware of their "leaven." The disciples, however, incorrectly deduced that the Lord was ridiculing them for failing to bring sufficient bread and provisions for their long journey. Sensing their misunderstanding, Christ rebukes them for having little faith in Him. These same disciples had witnessed two incredible feedings and the plentitude of food that remained afterward. Yet, they worried about the lack of bread rather than understanding the bigger spiritual picture. After Christ's rebuke, they learned their lesson and understood.
I would like to focus on two points this week:
1. The Importance of Unwavering, Resilient Faith
Many times in our lives we behave as the disciples, failing to truly believe in the power of God - a power that can heal our spiritual infirmities, a power that can provide our every necessity, a power that can transform us into the true image and likeness of God. Although we have witnessed and received His love, we rely on our own strength, intelligence, and personal attributes. When a problem or stress occurs, we try to solve the problem with our own intellect and wisdom. And, only after exhausting every possible solution of our own, do we typically turn to God. We are reminded this week that we should remember that our God is a God of love and compassion, Who promises to be with us and provide for our every need. Just as Christ was physically with the disciples during the boat journey, Christ is with us each and every moment of our life - "the Unseen Guest at very meal, the Silent Listener to every conversation." Christ is Truth and keeps His promises! Let us be ever faithful to our Lord so we will never have to hear the words, "O You, of little faith."
2. Avoiding the Leaven of the World
Anyone who has ever baked knows the importance of leaven. Leavening with yeast is a fermentation process that biologically changes the chemistry of dough or batter. Yeast leavening requires proofing, which allows the yeast time to reproduce and consume carbohydrates in the flour. The bread we use in Holy Qurbana is leavened.
In the Bible, yeast, or leaven, is typically used to describe sin. In this passage, though, Christ was using the term "leaven" in a figurative sense as related to the hypocrisy and false teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Blessed Theophylact says, "Just as leaven is both sour and old, so too the sour teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, with its moldering traditions of the elders, ate away at souls." Their leaven was a mixture of their "godly" speech and corrupted lifestyle. These religious men attempted to follow the Law to the letter and make sure everyone else did as well. They looked with magnifying glasses to see the specks in the eyes of others, not realizing (or more probably ignoring) the planks coming out of their own eyes as glorious hypocrites. St. John Chrysostom says of a hypocrite: "He judges the whole world, but justifies himself!" People of this disposition are unable to evaluate themselves critically, repent, and start living a good life. The religious leaders observed the "letter of the Law" and failed to understand the "spirit of the Law." They walked with heads held high and demanded respect and honor from the people, for they were the cream of the religious crop. And, they spread their misunderstandings and fallacies among the people that trusted them, as our Lord says, "the blind leading the blind." They were leading the people of God away from God and making them followers of a Law with love and compassion for their fellow man.
Christ is reminding us this week to avoid the leaven of the world at all costs and allow Him, the True and Pure Leaven, to change us and transform us into beautiful creations of God. He is reminding us to avoid all forms of hypocrisy in our lives so that we are true to ourselves and to God, Who knows our hearts (1 Sam 15:7). And how do we do that? By allowing humility and love through repentance to overcome us and grow within us. We have to follow Christ and His teachings and principles for spiritual living so that we can become like our Lord and Teacher. We have to be sound in our faith, words, and actions. When people see us speak and act as the ungodly, then our Christian witness is lost. This concerned Mahatma Gandhi to the extent that he once said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Does this describe ourselves?
As St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2 and also in Phillipians, we have to have the mind of Christ. Each and every day, we have a chance to make a real, positive difference in this world. We have a chance to show love, care, and compassion to those in desperate need. We have an opportunity to be Christ's hands and feet in this world and be effective witnesses for Him. But, do we? Success requires two things, as learned from this week's passage: unwavering and resilient faith, and avoiding the deadly leaven of the world - the worldly pleasures, passions, and pursuits that lead us from Christ and His mission. Make a decision today to live for Christ every moment of your life and to be His hands and feet in this world, continuing the great mission and work He began. May the Holy Spirit grant us real courage and vision to be faithful workers in our Lord's vineyard.
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