The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
 "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees"

Scripture:  Matthew 16:5-12

5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees." 7 And they discussed it among themselves, saying, "We brought no bread." 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, "O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees." 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees.
Meditation: Do you allow anxiety or fear to keep you from trusting in God's provision for your life? The apostles worried because they forgot to bring bread for their journey. And that was right after Jesus miraculously fed a group of five thousand people (Matthew 14:17-21), and then on another occasion four thousand people (Matthew 15:34-38)! How easy it is to forget what God has already done for us and to doubt what he promises to do for us in the future as well.  Scripture tells us that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). Ask God to flood your heart with his love and to increase your faith in his provident care for you.

Jesus cautioned the disciples to beware of bread that corrupts, such as the "leaven of the Pharisees." When leaven ferments a lump of wet dough, it transforms the dough and changes it into life-enriching bread when heated.  Left-over dough which had been leavened eventually rotted and became putrified. For the Jew leaven was a sign or symbol of evil influence. It signified anything which rots and corrupts, not just physically but spiritually and morally as well. Jesus warned his disciples to avoid the way of the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought their own counsels rather than the mind of God. They were blinded by their own arrogance and were unable to recognize the truth and wisdom which Jesus spoke in the name of his Father in heaven.  What kind of leaven (spiritual, moral, intellectual) do we allow to influence our way of thinking and living? Jesus sharply contrasts the bread and leaven which produces life, especially the abundant life which God offers through Jesus, the true bread of heaven, with the bread and leaven which rots and corrupts both body, mind, and soul.

As the apostles continued to worry about their lack of physical bread for the journey, Jesus reminded them of his miraculous provision of bread in the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand. He then upbraided them for their lack of trust in God. Aren't we like the apostles? We too easily get preoccupied with the problems, needs, and worries of the present moment, and we forget the most important reality of all -- God's abiding presence with us! When the people of Israel wandered in the desert homeless and helpless for forty years, God was with them every step of the way.  And he provided for them shelter, food, water, and provision, as long as they trusted in him. Each day he gave them just what they needed. Jesus teaches us to trust in God's abiding presence with us and in his promise to provide us what we need each and every day to live as his sons and daughters. Do you pray with joyful confidence, "Father, give us this day our daily bread"?

"Lord Jesus, you alone are the true bread of life which sustains us each and every day. Give me joy and strength to serve you always and help me to turn away from the leaven of sin and worldliness which brings corruption and death."


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(c) 2007 Don Schwager