Happy Saint Valentine’s Day everyone!Not much is known about the original Saint Valentine, nor why his name came to be associated with romantic love. He lived in the 4th century, and died as a martyr in Rome is about the only reliable information we have. it is interesting to note that images of the Roman God, Cupid, are also often included with hearts on his day.
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. 2Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 3Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. 4“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. 5But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. 7But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 8“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; 9but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. 10And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 11When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”
In the midst of the conflict, the crowd is continuing to gather, and like the crowd at a world soccer match, or at the Miami music festival, they are so intent on getting closer to Jesus that they trample one another. Jesus, however, turns to his disciples for a teaching moment – they have heard the accusations, the conflict – now Jesus warns them to beware of the “yeast of the Pharisees”, referring to their hypocrisy. Those who do one thing and say another will be brought to light; it is not really hidden. Their actions will be seen, their words heard. Disciples of Jesus should not follow their example of hypocrisy! Nor should Jesus’ disciples fear them – they can kill the body, true enough, but they do not have the authority to take the soul, or to cast into hell. God cares about even the sparrows sold in the market for two pennies; how much more does he care for us? Jesus’ disciples, and we today, should not be afraid, for God values them and us more than any sparrows.
Therefore, they should not be afraid to acknowledge Jesus – and he will acknowledge them before God. But for those who follow, but then pretend not to be followers in order to protect their own skin – them Jesus will deny before God. I wonder, do the disciples remember these words later, when Jesus is arrested and they betray, abandon, and deny him? Jesus forgives them – so we must see some degree of hyperbole in these words. Jesus acknowledges and loves us, even when we mess up, and we will, sometimes. He is saying don’t be judgmental about others, pretending to be better than them, when your own heart often needs healing.
The words about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit not being forgivable are often taken out of context and made into a general statement. But in context, Jesus is talking about the current conflict: the Pharisees have accused him of healing and casting out demons through the power of Satan, when it is the Holy Spirit working through Jesus that heals and casts out demons. To deny Jesus’ power, and that of the Holy Spirit as well, is blasphemy – and that is the strongest word Jesus ever uses. There is also, however, a sub-text here. Luke is writing to the young church, which is being persecuted at the time of his writing. The church exists only through the power of the Holy Spirit; to deny the work of the Spirit, a hypocrisy, in order to please officials would also be blasphemy. And then Jesus goes on to say that they should not worry about what to say to such officials, that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say.
Please note, Jesus is talking here, and Luke is reporting, about a specific instance – a time of persecution. This is another passage taken out of context, and actually used as an excuse by those who do not want to take the time to prepare sermons! They will say they preach the Word as the Spirit gives it to them at the time. This is to deny the work of the Spirit in the time of preparation, which, at least for me, is at least as important as the Spirit’s work during presentation!
To sum up, Jesus is saying that we should not become a new kind of Pharisee, letting the yeast of hypocrisy, creating more and more rules, and judgment of others infiltrate the church. He is saying that we should claim his name – we are Christian – but we should not defame it by actions that are Pharisaical, unloving, and judgmental. We should rely on the work of the Spirit, and trust him to be in our midst when times are troubled.