A lot of Christians have bad gas. They stink. Their stench is partly to blame for driving people away from the church. Of course, I say ‘partly,’ because those who don’t go to church have to take responsibility for their actions and stop blaming Christians with gas. But I digress.
I’m not talking about butt gas, but ego gas, and, believe it or not, there’s a difference. We’re up to Mark 8:14-21, where Jesus warns his followers about the gas of religious people, only Jesus calls it ‘leaven.’ But, let’s be honest, it’s more fun to say gas.
Leaven is the agent in bread that gives off gas so the bread will rise. Leaven could be either chemically based, like baking soda, or naturally based, like yeast, sour milk, or beer (mmmm, beer).
When the leaven begins to break down, it releases gas inside the body of the bread and the bread rises, becoming bigger than it really is. A lump of dough could grow twice its size because of the leaven.
This helps us to understand why Jesus cautioned his disciples, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). What did Jesus mean? Jesus knew that a lot of religious people were puffed up, making themselves appear bigger than they really were. In other words, they had leaven gas inside them, which inflated them to about twice their size. That’s why Jesus couldn’t stand the smell of religious people.
There was a kind of leaven inside the Pharisees that gave them an inflated ego or sense of self-importance. They thought they were bigger and better than everyone else; and they felt their good works made them bigger and better in God’s eyes, too, which is really damnable. The bottom line (no pun intended) is that they trusted their good works to make them righteous before God and men. They were inflated, puffed up, and full of gas.
Scour the Bible and you’ll discover that there’s nothing Jesus hated more than self-righteous, puffed up religious people. Jesus embraced all kinds of people, but not the ‘Pharisee’ kind. He embraced dirty lepers, prostitutes, drunks, liers, thieves, and even murderers, but he had no patience for puffed up religious folk. Hell, Jesus even made time for demons and the demon possessed, that’s how low his standards were!
Jesus just wanted the bread how it was, not all puffed up. He didn’t want self-righteous leven in it. And that’s pretty cool. Jesus will take bread that’s moldy, half-eaten, soggy, small, burnt, or underbaked, but he won’t have anything to do with deceptive, leavened bread. That’s the good news.
But there is bad news: everyone who has ever lived is infected with the leaven of the Pharisees. It’s in our human DNA. It’s what makes you want to puff yourself up and look better than others; it’s why social media works. It’s what makes you think you can earn God’s favor by being good or obeying his commandments. It’s what makes you give up on yourself for failing, because you think you’re better (and bigger) than you really are. It’s what causes you to thumb your nose at religious folks, because you think you’re better than they are. Wow, that just came full circle.
There’s no getting around the fact that we all have religious leaven in us, giving us spiritual gas. So how do we get rid of it?
Let’s go back to our passage of Scripture.
The disciples forgot to bring bread (14) and were arguing about the fact that they had no bread to eat (16). That’s when Jesus chimed in with his cautionary tale about leaven, which seemed to come out of right field. The disciples wondered what the heck he was talking about, for they were starving and Jesus was warning them about the dangers of leaven. So Jesus told them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand?” (17).
They were still confused, so Jesus reminded them of the multiple times he provided bread for them when they didn’t have any. “Don’t you remember?” (18), he asked them, when there was just the twelve of you, I miraculously provided bread for over 5,000 people, then I did the same for over 4,000 people, and each time there were leftovers!
In other words, Jesus reasoned, trust me to give you bread when you don’t have any; also, trust me to give you the kind of bread you need.
When we are empty, Jesus will provide what we need. When we don’t have what it takes to earn God’s favor, Jesus will provide for us. When we don’t have our own righteousness, Jesus will give us his righteousness. There’s no sense in puffing yourself up in order to look twice your size, because Jesus is able to give you 9,000 loaves of bread with plenty to spare! (That’s about 9,000 times your size!) You don’t need to be full of gas when Jesus is full of grace.
Just be you. Be ordinary, flimsy, plain-bagel-you. Stop trying to impress God and those around you. Jesus is able to provide all you need, and then some.
Here’s a thought that just occurred to me: there are two kinds of people, those who tell the truth and those who trust in their own inflating self-righteousness.
- What did Jesus mean by ‘leaven?’ Where do you see leaven in your life?
- In what situations are you afraid to be your ordinary self? Why do you think this is?
- Have you ever been ‘empty’ and experienced the grace of Jesus filling you up? What was that like? Was the ‘bread’ he provided better than what you would have been able to provide on your own?
- What do you think the last sentence means (“There are two kinds of people, those who tell the truth and those who trust in their own inflating self-righteousness.”)?