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The Power of a Little Grain of Yeast

Originally published Monday, 07 May 2012.


“Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, 'Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—beware of their hypocrisy.'” (Luke 12:1)


I think sometimes it can be so easy for us, today, to look back at the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and turn up our noses at their behavior, their ignorance.

The thing is, it is so easy for us to fall into those same traps and find ourselves baking with their same yeast, that—like them—we don’t even realize the extent of it.


This was not the first time Jesus warned his followers about the yeast of the Pharisees. Even in the Old Testament, yeast had taken on a connotation of that which is to be avoided, most notably when the Israelites had to remove all yeast from the camp once a year to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which was a time of cleansing and removing sin from the community as they remembered how God delivered them from slavery. (Exodus 12:17-20)


So yeast often takes on this metaphor for sin, because it is an agent that creeps in ever so subtly and then is able to infiltrate the entire loaf. In baking my own bread, I see this in action every week. You add just a couple teaspoons of yeast—barely any compared with the amount of flour and water and milk that you use—and yet without the yeast, you cannot get a fluffy slice of bread.


It is interesting to note that in one of Jesus’ own parables, though, he takes this idea of yeast flourishing and turns it on its head, using it instead as a symbol for heaven: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast used by a woman making bread. Even though she used a large amount of flour, the yeast permeated every part of the dough.” (Mark 13:33)


That ability of yeast—though it is added in small quantities, it grows and effects the whole of the dough—is what makes it so illustrative in these parables. 


It’s why Jesus warns his followers to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees: Not only can a little kernel of evil grow and make a good Jewish man want to see the Son of God hung on a cross, but the evil of that man can then permeate the entire of the church, of the people, of the world. The evil in a single man’s heart can multiply and affect not only himself, but also everyone around him.


And it’s there that I see the link between me and those long-ago Pharisees. Yes, they cheered when Jesus died, whereas I cheer that Jesus was raised from the dead. But the fact is that, for both of us, what evil we allow in our own hearts, what pain we cause through our own actions, has incredible ramifications that go much deeper than we realize.


What I do and say and think and don’t do or say or think affects those around me. If it’s good, it can encourage more good, just like in the Kingdom of God parable. But if it is bad, like that of the Pharisees, then it can be a poison to the world around me. To my husband, to my family, to my friends, to my church.


Just as the disciples were warned to beware the yeast of the Pharisees, so I realize that I must beware the yeast in my own heart. Who knows what could come of it?

Carmen writes the blog, Life Blessons, which provides an intimate look into her life as a twentysomething woman as she details her experiences learning how to live out her faith, enjoy the simple things in life and be the woman God created to her to be. Along the way, she shares the blessings and lessons that are a part of this journey, the things she likes to call her "blessons."

Feel free to learn more at her blog, Life Blessons.

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