Jesus feeds four thousand people plus with seven loaves and a few small fish, as Mark recounts in chapter 8 of his gospel. In addition, He and the disciples end up with seven baskets full of broken pieces. We are told that Jesus wanted to feed them because his "bowels" of compassion were moved (our pastor pointed out last Sunday that this is a universal human feeling - your guts lurch when you see a person or an animal being hurt. Or they should.) In light of Jesus' extraordinary act of mercy on a crowd weak with hunger, the Pharisees don't get it. They get in his face and ask him for a sign. Jesus heaves a deep (exasperated?) sigh and leaves in his boat.
The next part is the bit that interested me today. Mark goes out of his way to tell us that the disciples in the boat "had forgotten to bring bread, and they only had one loaf." Where is all of that miracle bread you had leftover? My frugality wants to chew them out. I mean, they could have made a bread pudding, or croutons at least. Maybe they could have soaked the bits it olive oil like the Italians, I don't know. But Jesus is not so preoccupied with their management of ministry resources as I am; He has other concerns.
"Watch out!" He says. "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." What on earth does that mean? I want to know. I'm sure the other disciples are just as curious as I am, which is why they begin discussing..."the fact that they had no bread." Wha...really, guys?
Jesus turns around. "Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand? Are your hearts hardened?" (At this point, I imagine Jesus rapping his knuckles on the one loaf of bread they do have, now gone stale.) "Having eyes, do you not see, and having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?" (Ouch - that was just a few hours previous, right?) "When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" They said to him, twelve. "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up? And they said to him, "Seven." And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?"
Is He annoyed that they forgot the bread? "Hey guys, I made enough bread for you to eat, it was your fault you left the baskets behind. I'm just the miracle worker, here." I don't think so. It seems like He was trying to use the topic of bread and hunger, an earthly reality, to talk about heavenly food, and they just weren't making it with him to that higher plane of thinking. And truly, how can we wrap our brain around a concept like "the leaven of the Pharisees" when the fridge is empty? How do we set aside our human preoccupation with bodily fuel in the interest of spiritual things? Do we ignore our rumbling tummies, and those of our neighbor. No. Jesus Himself was concerned for the crowd before he fed them, that they might faint on the way if they tried to walk to the store. He knows we are dust, and our need for sustenance. But how much time and mental energy should we devote to these things?
This is a significant question for me personally for two reasons. Lately, given our latest jump into careful spending, it takes a considerable amount of time, planning, and extra work to run a household. Many things turn out to be a fraction of the cost when made by hand, such as bread, whole wheat tortillas, sprouts, fresh herbs, jam, cleaning products, and face wash. Of course, I have found a lot of joy and purpose in rediscovering some of these "housewifery" skills (nice, old-fashioned term). The "simple life," a trendy concept in the blogging world, promotes the values of homemaking, from-scratch cooking, gardening, local markets, and I love it all. I just eat it up. But is it really "simple," and how much of it is unnecessary preoccupation with earthly bread? (Sheesh. That's a big question. Maybe I'll save that one for a later post.)
The second reason that Jesus' reprimand to His disciples resonates with me is the recent scuttlebutt about health care spending. Now, I'm not all "wee-weed" up about it or anything, but I do read and think about these things, because they involve not only the physical health of our country (the "bread," as it were), but also the spiritual health. Why do I say that?
The story in Mark says that Jesus had a visceral reaction to the physical hunger of the people. The same word, "moved with compassion" is used when He was faced with the leper in the first chapter of the same gospel. "My heart goes out to you," by now a clichéd phrase, seems to describe the feeling pretty well. Well, I think this ought to be my first reaction when faced with the multitude of sick. (Notice, I did not say: the multitude of the uninsured.) They need help, and I need to ask God what my personal role is in alleviating the physical troubles of this world for His glory. Pray for healing? Yes. Volunteer my time, maybe. Volunteer a greater portion of my paycheck willingly? Maybe? Let the government take it from my paycheck? Maybe. Regardless, my motive should be Jesus-like compassion. As James says in his epistle, "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,'without giving him the things needed for the body, what good is that?"
But also, like Jesus, I don't want my focus to stay on the physical satisfaction of needs. The things that I give should be like a parable, enabling me to talk more about Him. That is one problem that I have with the government (or the economy!) in the role of benevolent giver; they can only satisfy earthly needs. It's the opposite problem of the one posed in James. And goodness knows, when our earthly needs are taken care of, we tend to forget God.
Is that what he meant by the "leaven of Herod"? Hmm. I wonder...