When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. – Matthew 16:5-12
The water reference here is the lake, but the real topic is “soul food” and yeast. So bread (generically food) is the fuel and raw material that our body uses to build and maintain itself. Our bodies, as important as they seem to us, are really just containers for our souls.
Food for the soul is very different than the ham and cheese sandwich our body craves to survive. “Soul food” is something much more subtle and often requires special “training” to consume. The disciples are in the midst of that soul training here.
I think what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples, and us, is that the “soul food” the Pharisees are providing is not what the disciples need to build strong and healthy souls. What they need is the soul food Jesus is offering.
The choice the disciples face is between the familiar, and on some level effective, leven of the Pharisees. Their religion and traditions appear from the outside to be nourishing their souls when in fact they are spiritually starving. The real “food” our souls need is the miraculous and magical abundance provided by the Son of God. The “yeast” of the Pharisees appears on the outside to make good bread, but it is all really an illusion of substance that dissolves into nothing when mixed with the “saliva” of our spirits.
The “soul food” Jesus is offering is in some ways just the opposite of the yeast bread being offered by the Pharisees. It sometimes can be mistaken for “nothing”, but when we consume it we find that it has become a seven course meal for our souls, just like the fish and loaves miracles that Jesus provides as examples of real “soul food”. It was not the fish flesh and wheat that nourished the souls of those in attendance, it was God’s spirit through his Son Jesus.
I recently discovered that I am gluten intolerant. Apparently this is because my gut has somehow lost it’s ability to produce the necessary chemical enzymes and machinery to break down gluten. I love bread so this discovery was a bit heartbreaking. I have learned to enjoy a burger with a lettuce “bun”. Now I can honestly say I prefer them that way. I learned that in fact the bun was distracting my taste buds from the real focus of the meal, the juicy burger hot off the BBQ. In a way I think what Jesus is saying to the disciples is that they need to develop an intolerance for the yeast of the Pharisees. They need to learn to appreciate the raw spiritual food that God offers to sustain our souls.
The raw spiritual food that Jesus is teaching about is fundamentally about faith and faithfully following God. The disciples need to realize that no hunger coming from their guts should compete with the spiritual hunger that should be in their souls. The only way to satisfy the soul hunger is to seek out the spiritual sustenance that God provides all those who seek it out and train their souls to consume it on a regular basis.
Prayer: God help us to train our souls to consume the soul food that truly satisfies.