Being Leaven

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Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Mark 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”


Opening Prayer: God, my Father, as I place myself before you in this moment of prayer, I thank you that your love for me doesn’t depend on what I know or understand. You love me because I am yours. You created me. You know everything that I have lived. I ask you to open my mind and soften my heart so that I can see your presence in my life, in the world around me, and in the others you place in my path. I ask that you help me grow in my understanding of all your Son did and taught, to know the truths of my faith more clearly, and to grow in my love for you.


Encountering Christ:


  1. A Faulty Conclusion: The disciples had just seen Jesus heal the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman and the deaf man (Mark 7:24-37). They had just seen Jesus feed four thousand people with seven loaves and a few fish (Mark 8:1-9). Yet the disciples still couldn’t put Jesus’ words about leaven into context. They concluded that he was worried about them having only one loaf of bread with them! The Pharisees had just demanded a sign from Jesus (Mark 8:11), and now his own disciples didn’t understand him. Is it any wonder that Jesus sounded frustrated as he asked the disciples this series of questions? In our own lives, how easily we can become focused on our material concerns and our practical understanding and forget to try to see a situation through God’s eyes. We can struggle with a particular teaching of the Church, and rather than make the effort to form our conscience according to the mind of the Church through study, prayer, spiritual direction, and confession, we simply say that we disagree and leave it at that. We can fail to trust God, and our hearts become hardened into a particular expectation of how a problem should be solved. What would we say if Jesus asked, “Are your hearts hardened?”
  2. Remember: The disciples seemed to have forgotten all they had seen and experienced with the Lord, and so Jesus asked, “And do you not remember…?” They had seen him quiet storms; raise Jarius’s daughter; heal lepers, the blind, and the deaf; and cast out demons as well as feeding thousands with virtually nothing. They had heard his teaching, and he had explained it to them. Nevertheless, they failed to see and hear as Jesus does. In our own lives, we can forget all that God has done to protect and guide us, we can forget all he has given us and how he has healed us. We can forget the ways in which we have seen him work in the lives of others. We need to stop and recall that, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of Heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8) so that our “faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
  3. Leaven: There are different types of leavening used in baking, but they all have one thing in common: they make dough or batter rise or expand. The Pharisees tried to test Jesus, demanded signs from him, and tried to turn the crowds against him. Their concern for their position, their way of understanding their faith, and their pride coalesced into disbelieving hardness of heart that affected those around them. Herod provided a scandalous example through his disordered life. Their leaven was to draw people away from Christ’s message. As Christians, we are called to be leaven that enriches society with the Gospel. Jesus said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened” (Luke 13:20-21). We are called to bring about the Kingdom through our witness, in words and deeds: “The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known” (CCC 2472). 


Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, it is so easy for me to think of my faith as private, just between the two of us. But that’s not true, is it? My faith either builds up or tears down the faith of others. It matters that I strive to know and live all that the Church teaches because it is really you teaching through your Church. It matters that I live with faith, hope, and love and so leaven my life with your grace. That way I can bring your light and love to others. Lord, only through your presence in my life, only through your Holy Spirit, do I have the strength to be your witness in the world. I thank you for your sacraments that strengthen me, and for your holy word that lets me encounter you in all you did and said in your life on earth. Lord, help me be good leaven in today’s world.


Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will prayerfully reflect on the witness of others in my life, and reach out to someone who has been a positive witness of the Gospel to let them know the impact he or she had on me.


For Further Reflection: Consider the following quote from Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church:


But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer (n. 31).


Janet McLaughlin and her husband, Chris, live on a mountain in rural northeastern Oregon. She puts her Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies to work as she shares the beauty and importance of the lay vocation in her writing, speaking, and teaching on spiritual topics.

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