Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Yeast of the Pharisees

Last week I made some sourdough bread, but I didn't let it rise nearly enough. It tasted ok, but the loaves looked like albino hockey pucks[1]. Today I made the same recipe, but let the dough rise (and brushed on a little olive oil) and the results were amazing. There isn't much to the recipe: flour, water, salt, sugar, baking soda and, oh yeah, sourdough starter. I'm pretty sure the yeast from the starter is the primary source of flavor in this bread.

Jesus told his disciples to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees", which is a fairly cryptic statement to most of us today. The New Testament records many conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment, especially the Pharisees. Only his conversation with Nicodemus and his trip to Jerusalem as a child show anything resembling a friendly relationship. It's clear that Jesus saw something wrong with the Jewish leadership.

I believe that the yeast symbolism describes the Pharisees's flaw. During the Passover, yeast was forbidden to the Jews because they needed to be ready to travel. Flat breads (like pita and tortillas) are easier to make and carry on the road. Yeast, like the sourdough starter I use, needs to be cared for and would be a burden to travelers. Also, because yeast varies with regions, it would preserve a part of the place the Jews had left -- Egypt. Jews remove every bit of yeast from their homes during the Passover as a reminder of the flight from Egypt. These days, that mostly involves buying Matza rather than leavened bread, but in the past it meant cultivating a new yeast culture after the feast had finished.

Yeast is a symbol of contentedness and luxury. Bread just tastes better with a bit of yeast. But the yeast puffs up and adds fluff, not substance. Yeast is a sign of settling down and spreading out. Jesus said beware, because the temptation is to accept these things.

This world isn't our home. We belong to a better and higher country, so we can't be comfortable here. The yeast of the Pharisees is finding ways around the Sabbath laws, justifying hate and anger, tolerating the abuse of women. And we are all guilty of it. We are surrounded by the poor and we create all sorts of excuses so that we can go out to dinner one more time a month rather than helping. We cheat our employers out of an hour or two at work since no one will notice.

Yeast isn't inherently bad, but is dangerous to accept. Cleaning it out of your life once in a while is an exellent idea because it's just too easy to get used to.

[1]   This phrase also describes DEC mice according to Google.

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