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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 16:5–12

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (NRSV)

I’ve always loved the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ warning in this passage: it’s such a human moment of defensiveness to a minor mistake. They have forgotten to bring bread on the trip, so the moment that Jesus utters the word “yeast,” they assume it is some sort of veiled dig at them. Jesus, of course, has his mind on something bigger: coming off of a passage in which the Pharisees and Sadducees have yet again tested him, Jesus is mindful of the ways in which these religious leaders are leading many people astray. They are focused, at least in Matthew’s Gospel, primarily on preserving their own status as revered teachers, not in serving God’s people.

It’s no mistake then that this passage immediately precedes some of the most powerful moments of self-revelation that Jesus gives in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus acknowledges that he is the Messiah; that as the Messiah he will suffer, die, and be raised; and, in a shocking mountaintop experience, is transfigured before them. Jesus is asking them to set aside their earthly focus in this moment, letting go not just of talking about bread but also of exploiting faith for their earthly gain like the Pharisees and Sadducees do.

This command to focus on a higher calling does not preclude us from getting involved in the basic needs of the people around us; Jesus elsewhere makes it clear that we are to be deeply involved in that type of work. We are, however, reminded that we do not serve for ourselves. We do all of it for God’s glory.

Holy God, I humbly ask that you guide my daily living so that all that I do might be done to further your kingdom. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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