Homily for February 14th, 2017: Mark 8:14-21
In yesterday’s gospel reading we heard Jesus’ critics demanding a “sign,” something so dramatic that it would compel belief. Jesus had already given many signs: his miracles of healing. He rejected the demand for further signs because he knew that belief cannot be compelled. His words today, “Guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” are a commentary on his confrontation with the pious critics who were not content with the signs Jesus had already given, and demanded more. “Leaven” is a figure of speech for something with an inward, vigorous vitality. Here it refers to an evil force that can spread, like an infection. Jesus is telling his disciples not to succumb to the hard-hearted mentality of his critics.
This goes completely over his disciples’ heads. They are in a boat and have started to cross the lake. They discover that they have brought only one loaf of bread with them. They think that Jesus’ words about leaven must have something to do with the bread. As so often in the gospels, Jesus’ disciples are thinking on the material level (in this case about bread and leaven), while Jesus is on the spiritual level.
Aware of their misunderstanding at once, Jesus asks: “Why do you conclude that is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend?” Don’t you remember how I fed a vast crowd in the wilderness with just a few loaves of bread – not just once but twice? Why, then, are you worrying about not having enough to eat? “Do you still not understand?”
What is it that Jesus’ friends do not understand? That he is able to look after them; and that he has ways of doing so which they cannot possibly imagine or understand. We pray in this Mass for the faith which they lacked. Here is an evangelical hymn which beautifully expresses this prayer.
Cast your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His Glory and Grace.
Through death into life everlasting / He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more has dominion - For more than conquerors we are!
His Word shall not fail you - He promised; believe Him, and all will be well;
Then go to a world full of darkness, His perfect salvation to tell.