11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ 13And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.
14 Now the disciples* had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’* 16They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ 17And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ 20‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ 21Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’
And so – the Pharisees came and began to argue and to ask him for a sign from heaven – wait a minute, where have they been? Jesus has made the deaf to hear and those without speech to speak; he has healed the sick and cast our demons; he has fed 5000 and then 4000 in the wilderness. What do they want – neon blinking in the sky?? Is it any wonder that Jesus is disgusted with them? He asks why this “generation” asks for a sign, and says surely no sign will be given them!
And then – he gets in the boat with the disciples to go back to the other side of the lake. Jesus is thinking about the Pharisees and their demand for a sign; the disciples are thinking about bread, because they had forgotten to bring bread along, except for one loaf. Jesus says “Watch out — beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” The disciples are confused; they think he is talking about the bread they forgot. Jesus says, why are you talking about bread? Don’t you understand?
Can you hear the frustration? If the Pharisees cannot understand, surely the disciples would! And so he explains again – by asking questions – reminding them of the feeding of the 5000 and of the 4000. These were the signs; to the disciples they were just about bread – but they were about much more. They were about God providing for his people in the wilderness; they were about Jesus being God’s own Son.
The yeast of the Pharisees is cynicism, defensiveness, and searching for a fault, even in Jesus. The yeast of the Pharisees is a hard heart and blind eyes, when God is working in front of our noses. It is like a virus, this cynicism and defensiveness; it is contagious. Or like a yeast, it contaminates the entire batch of dough. We must be on our guard against the negativity, the cynicism with which the Pharisees contaminate our thinking.
The yeast of Herod is pride, power, greed, and fear – for of course, those are things that others can take away. If we succumb to Herod’s yeast, we become obsessed with the “things”, the trappings of wealth and power; and in pride, think it is ours, we earned it. If, however, we avoid that trap, we know that all that is good comes from God; and we are simply grateful for what we have.