I’m Cheryl Krueger and with the teaching team at Calvary and we are continuing the series in the gospel of Matthew about the Kingdom of God.
With COVID, things are changing. I’m realizing that the future is not what it used to be. The same with the Kingdom of God; when we live it, the future is not what it used to be, in a good sort of way.
Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest says the Kingdom of God is not just around the corner, it is the corner. The Kingdom is a 180 degree corner and the new view gives us a future that is not what it used to be.
Gary and I were walking in the neighbourhood in June and became engulfed by the pleasant scent of a rather large lilac bush. We noticed how small one lilac flower is. Nestled in a group they look like a bigger flower, and then there are thousands of them and they take over a huge bush.
Then there are the not so welcomed flowers in my neighbourhood. The dandelions which find their way into my lawn are a continual menace. Sorry to those of you who actually like dandelions. One seedy puff has the power to become a whole field of dandelions, and then back to seed puffs which just create more and more.
In my last sermon on the gospel of Matthew Jesus told a parable about the yeast that gets into everything and expands the Kingdom of God; good yeast, like the lilac bush. There is also a bad kind of yeast. Like the dandelion, it has great power to get into everything and grow and expand. It can affect the thinking and values of society and our churches. It becomes systemic and we mostly don’t even realize it.
What is this bad yeast? Jesus talks about it very sternly because he knows how insidious and damaging it is.
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.
The disciples get it, their eyes are opened. The Pharisees and Sadducees are the very religious guys who are teaching something that spreads like bad yeast. The disciples would have grown up on the teachings of the Pharisees. It would have been their spiritual “meat and potatoes”, their “bread and butter”; it would have shaped their assumptions and their thinking and Jesus turns those teachings on their head, like how we’ve been learning about the upside down Kingdom in Matthew. The first shall be last, the spiritual nobodies become the blessed ones, showing mercy on the Sabbath; the Pharisees didn’t like it one bit.
Jesus said in this passage remember the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000 and all the baskets of food left over. What are those leftovers for, just to show abundance? Or maybe those are for the ones the Pharisees would have considered “outside the rules”, outside the Jewish nation, like the Gentile woman begging crumbs off the table.
Jesus warns against their bad yeast teachings, which they would have held very dear. They were proud of their beliefs because they gave them power, control, and advantage. These guys were the religious supremacists of their day. Who are these guys and what are they teaching?
The Pharisees originated about 300 years before Jesus. They were under Greek rule and the Pharisees came into existence as a protest against the Greek influence and culture and to preserve their national identity in the Mosaic law.
They got into minutia about keeping laws and created 613 new laws, mostly about how to behave on a Sunday (or their Sabbath). Their reputation was that they did not follow the very laws that they themselves taught but made the Law a huge burden to others. Every town had their Pharisees. They would strut about the streets and say prayers so others could see how pious they were. They loved being esteemed. Hypocritical formula makers, we’d call them. Later they did everything they could to have Jesus condemned to death.
The gospel of Luke also comments on this bad yeast. Luke 12:1 tells us that there is a huge crowd of thousands of people. As they are gathering, Jesus leans in to his disciples and says just to them, hey guys, beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
The Pharisees and Sadducees would have been in this crowd too and Jesus calls their teaching hypocrisy. Ouch, that’s got to be the last thing anyone ever wants to be called, and yet it is the greatest criticism against church people, those hypocrites.
Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing something else. Words and actions don’t match. The opposite of hypocrisy might be integrity. Integrity means “whole”, what you say and do are one and the same; whole, not a split apart person.
A person with integrity could be compared to a tomato; red on the outside and, cut open, still red on the inside. What you see is what you get. A hypocrite is more like a watermelon; green on the outside but, cut open, not green on the inside. The inside and the outside are not the same.
The Pharisees had their rules, 613. Their rules were their security. Rules gave them power.
In Luke 11 Jesus went to dinner with a Pharisee but he didn’t wash his hands. Even though it wasn’t COVID times, he broke a rule and the Pharisee caught him red-handed. Jesus was busted! Jesus used this as an object lesson to expose their hypocrisy. He said, you guys wash the outside of the cup but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. Like when you grab a beautiful cup and then look inside and it is full of stains or a moldy tea bag.
In Luke 11:42 Jesus comes on strong, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.” You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Giving a tenth was one of the rules. They got that down, but they neglect something else: justice and the love of God. Jesus didn’t say obeying the rules was bad. Jesus didn’t speak bad about the law but they ignored the most important law of all, the law of love; love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
One of the experts of the law answered Jesus, when you say these things you insult us too! He is offended because he is convicted, but Jesus continued with his woes and warnings in verse 46, “Woe to you, religious know it alls, because you load people down with burdens but you don’t lift a finger to help them. Woe to you, experts in the law because you take away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
The religious elite just got their ruled-based kingdom turned upside down. They thought they knew it all, they were the answer guys, but Jesus gives them a failing grade. F for justice, F for the love of God, F for helping others.
Do you get the picture? That is what the bad yeast does. Legalism for self-gain while keeping others out. The battle between law and grace. We fight it too because the law is easier. If we obey the rules we think we are in. Rules aren’t enough, rules are not the gate to the Kingdom, rules are not the key to belonging. Rather, it is love.
Jesus warned, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Why could Jesus woe the hypocrites? He seemed so hard on them. Why did Jesus get away with that? Because Jesus is the only one who has never been the hypocrite. He never ever sinned, he was sinless, so he could throw the first stone and be right about it.
Lest I point my finger at those rules guys, I need to look at my own hypocrisy. It’s there. Like at work, I judged a colleague for working with half a heart and then realized that I too sometimes get weary and don’t have energy to give 100%. I created a rule for him that I couldn’t keep myself. We all do stuff like that, often unaware. Beware of thinking that the Pharisees and Sadducees were the only hypocrites. We have our own well ingrained religious systems. The yeast of hypocrisy gets into everything, including our churches.
Maybe we are all, as Rusty would say, recovering hypocrites. Maybe we need not at AA group but an HA, hypocrites anonymous support group.
Jesus woes the Pharisees but he woos the people. He warns, mind the rules and then don’t forget the greatest law of all, the law of the love of God. Then he woos the disciples too by loving them.
Paul in the book of Galatians, a study in law versus grace, refers to this yeast as well. In Galatians 5:7-10 Paul pleads with the Galatians, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’” Paul quotes Jesus.
Yeast gets into everything. They were doing good and then the pharisaical yeast confused them. The Galatians were perhaps feeling insecure, needed control, so they used their default rules to make them feel secure but it cost them their freedom. When we feel insecure or out of control the rules are on standby, ready to catch us.
Jesus warned, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Their hypocrisy gave them power to determine who was in and who was out. Who didn’t make the cut. Jesus certainly would not have made the cut. They would have slammed the church door in his face because he failed on a Sabbath rule. Yet Jesus raised the bar on the love of God and justice for humanity, something far harder to do.
Jesus puts everyone on a level playing field. All are welcome to enter the gate of the Kingdom. The religious rule keepers have no more access to the Kingdom than the poor, the widows and orphans, and those on the outside of the Jewish parameters. Yes, we are all on equal ground. No Jew/Gentile, male/female; we are all sinners and we are all welcome at the door of the Kingdom. His love is available.
Father Gregory Boyle runs a ministry called Homeboy Industries for people who have a history of trauma and lived disorganized lives. In his book Barking at the Choir he tells stories of his clients he calls “homies”. One such woman had endured the worst of the worst. Her whole life was disadvantaged and she didn’t know the rules. Gregory had shown her grace upon grace. One day she told Gregory, “I wish you were God.” “Why do you wish that?” he asked. She answered, “because if you were God you would let me into heaven.”
Father Boyle says that we judge before we see the load a person has to carry. The law judges how a person carries their load, yet love looks first at the heaviness of the load a person might be carrying and then helps them carry that load.
Jesus warned, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Jesus woes the righteous religious hypocrites but he woos the sinners.
I’ll tell you another story. The story is in a poem written by Henry Kingsley and set to music in 1898. It is about Magdalen, or Mary Magdalen.
Magdalen went to the gate of heaven where Michael was the gatekeeper. She rattled the gate. Next to the gate a blackbird perched in a bush. The blackbird said to the gatekeeper, “Let her in, let her in, let her in.” But Michael said, “Hast Thou seen the wounds? Knowest thou thy sin?” (As if she needed reminding.)
The blackbird sang, “It is evening, it’s late. Let her in, let her in, let her in.”
Magdalen replies, “Yes, I have seen my wounds, I know well my sin.” The blackbird continues to advocate for her, “She knows her sin, let her in, let her in, let her in.”
“Well,” says Michael, “Thou bring’st no offerings? Naught save sin.”
“But she is sorry,” sings the blackbird, “She is sorry, let her in, let her in, let her in.”
When he had sung himself to sleep, night did begin, and night did begin.
One came and opened Michael’s gate,
And Magdalen went in.
The One, we know who he is; the One who opens the gate, who didn’t require the offering because he himself is the offering. The One who knew her wounds, for he too was wounded. We know who the One is, his name is Jesus.
Jesus is the way in; not the rules, not being perfect, not even working hard, but by Jesus who opens the gate wide. He says to me and you, even when night falls as the eleventh hour, his voice speaks, “Come on in. Come to me, all you weary and burdened ones. He woos, “Come to me.”
When we come to Jesus the future is not what it used be.
Knowing God doesn’t come through knowing the rules and knowing right doctrine. That can help, but we know God through loving and being loved by God. It’s the wooing love of God.
Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Oh God of mercy, help me and help us all. The Pharisees and Sadducees of our day, of our churches, of our religions are alive and well. Beware, lest we eat their bread. Jesus has better bread, the bread of his broken body. His bread is the bread of love and justice, the bread he broke on the cross and shares with us who are the poor and needy. May it be the good yeast of Christ’s Kingdom that gets in us, and then the future is not what it used to be.