1 Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and stepping on each other. Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees — their hypocrisy. 2 The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 3 Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!
4 Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. 5 But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.
6 What is the price of five sparrows — two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
8 I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. 9 But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels. 10 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
11 And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”
When we read the warning about the yeast of the Pharisees in Mark and Matthew, the statement was embedded in narrative, coming after a mass feeding and just as the Twelve had forgotten to stop at the Piggly Wiggly for a loaf. Luke strips away the narrative frame and any explanation other than the rant we read yesterday and the rest of chapter 12 (which will fill the rest of this week for us). The Pharisees fail to practice justice and abuse the people they are supposed to care for (ch. 11). The disciples are not to be afraid of them or anyone or anything else (ch. 12). Luke wants us to consider what the yeast of the Pharisees is in his carefully constructed context.
Yeast is such a powerful agent. Once it is active it works its way through the dough changing the chemistry, texture, and taste of the bread. It starts small but it affects the whole, leaving no part untouched. It is self-replicating when fed and can lay dormant waiting for the right conditions to leap into action again. It adds volume to the dough, making it seem bigger than it is. Yeast is the ideal metaphor here because the root of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, their yeast, was fear. Like a baker uses yeast as a tool, the Pharisees used fear as a tool to control and abuse people. Anyone who claims to speak for God and have the authority to adjudicate another’s spirituality can easily use fear to manipulate anyone who accepts their claim to authority. The Pharisees were master fear mongers. Which explains the content and placement of Luke 12.
But pay careful attention – Luke doesn’t just rail against the fear-yeast of the Pharisees. He keeps the basic warning – Jesus’ disciples need to actively avoid (the Greek is literally – “pay attention to getting away from”) this fear-yeast. Luke is already looking ahead to the troubles the early church experienced that his second volume reports on. Disciples of Jesus need to avoid the fear-yeast because we are just as prone the Pharisees to using fear to religiously manipulate others.
Jesus wanted nothing to do with any form of manipulation. Justice does not manipulate. Love cannot manipulate. Those who follow Jesus cannot, must not, manipulate either. And we don’t need to (that’s not to say some don’t anyway – the warning here is a very real warning), because perfect love drives out all fear. The way of Jesus is not the way of fear. It is the opposite. It is the way of freedom, the way of empowerment, the way of shouting from rooftops and going before magistrates unrehearsed, trusting the Spirit – the Spirit Who Is Love, the Fear Banishing Spirit – to fill our minds and mouths with the very words of God to the world, to the authorities, to every little sparrow of a person who feels worthless and is actually worth more than they could possibly imagine until the Love-Spirit begins to speak through you to tell them. Find a rooftop today and let the Spirit fill your mouth with fear-dispelling words.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.