Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1 NASB)
It’s ironic that Jesus can go from the relative serenity of a dinner party to the chaos of a rude mob of people, but only have criticism for the other dinner guests. People are basically trampling each other to get close to the Prince of Peace, and He tells His disciples to beware the infectious facade of the former dinner guests. Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a disciple, seeing the dangerous mob, and hearing about the docile dinner guests? Would it have been difficult to focus on what Jesus was saying? Would it have made it difficult to get His point? What follows are several statements found in the other Gospels, but usually in different places. Luke places them here with this introductory statement tying them to the meal Jesus has just left.
Leaven is not just yeast. I thought it was, but there are other elements besides yeast that go into leavening agents. I make my own sourdough bread. I came up with a recipe for a bread machine, and even adjusted it for high-altitude baking. The key to sourdough bread is the starter. The starter is dough in a more liquid form to which you add the other elements to make the bread. It’s the leavening agent. It has yeast, and stuff to feed the yeast culture. But the effects of the starter touch the whole loaf of bread. Bad starter makes bad bread. The infectious effect is part of Jesus’ statement about the Pharisees.
The other part is the hypocrisy. The word comes from the masks worn by actors in Greek plays, as they play one part or another. From this we get the sense of people playing a “part” rather than being who they really are. In our culture we might say they have a facade, the fake front to a building that makes it look better or more than it truly is on the inside. This makes up the other part of Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees.
So their facade, or practice of using one is infectious. It becomes the pattern others follow because these people are so respectable, so dedicated to God, so upright, who wouldn’t want to emulate them. But as the impossibility of being so good settles in, these other also fall back to merely appearing to be all those things, showing no weakness or sin. They hide what’s in their hearts, and the facade is established and maintained. The leaven has become yet another loaf of hypocrisy.
This is easy to do, and very comfortable on one level. But also very debilitating on another. Maintaining the facade is exhausting and futile. I’ve done it for years. It drives a lot of my depression which then in turn drives my need for the facade. It’s a lovely self-sustaining cycle. But it’s slavery. The thing that the Pharisees, and what I, couldn’t see was that Jesus offered freedom from this cycle. Now I see it begin again and work to break it.
But it’s easy to fall into. Things have to be good and fun and sunny and delightful. But really, in the midst of the bad, drudgery, gloomy, and burdensome times of life, can I be good and sunny and fun and delightful? Not faking it, but because even in those times Jesus is still good! The truth can look like the facade, but the reality is it’s actually bigger on the inside. I’m free to love others when Jesus’ goodness prevails, where the facade does not let that happen. I’m free to engage in the sadness of others, their reality doesn’t damage my facade and reveal the shabby interior, only when I’m sufficient in Jesus.
The fruit of the Spirit of God are the things we want to be the characteristics of our lives, yet we try so hard to produce them, as if they become our fruit. That’s the facade: a store front with our name on it hawking inferior fruit in limited quantities. It’s time to become the “shopkeeper” for the Holy Spirit, making available His fruit in abundance and variety. When we take “ownership” for the store rather than owning our management responsibilities we’re going to be very unhappy. The pursuit of happiness is in pressing on for the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. It’s time to open the right store.
What do you learn from Jesus here?