Day 143: Matthew 16:6

Take care; be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Here we have a cooking tip from Jesus.  If you want to have good bread you have to use good ingredients.  The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to test Jesus, to set a trap for him by asking him to perform a miracle.  He refuses, and then warns his disciples to be on guard against the “yeast” of the religious leaders of the day.  But who were these people and what was their yeast?

Who were the Pharisees?

I already described who the Pharisees were on Day 77. They were essentially affluent Jews who were intent on adapting the Law of Moses to their life in their own time and make it more enforceable by creating a lot of new rules for people to follow. They were very impressed by Jesus and appreciated his interpretation of the Law, but they were appalled by what they considered to be his rather laissez faire approach to obeying the letter of the Law. They ambivalent about his teachings on love and compassion.  The Pharisees didn’t have any intrinsic power or authority; they were usually landowners who were influential in religious circles because of their piety and  assertiveness.  Some held important positions like serving on the Sanhedrin (high Jewish court); others served as priests.  Jesus spent a lot of time with the Pharisees, and they were not among those who ultimately killed Jesus.

Who were the Sadducees?

Rich and powerful, the Sadducees were held in great esteem in Jewish society.  As temple priests, they were responsible for both animal sacrifices and daily temple maintenance activities. They also had many other official political, social, and religious responsibilities, like diplomatic relations, participation in the Sanhedrin, collecting taxes, and leading the army.

According to Wikipedia the Pharisees and Sadducees had some serious disagreements.

  • The Sadducees rejected the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection of the dead.  They were known for engaging in heated arguments about this topic.
  • While both the Pharisees and the Sadducees believed in the Law of Moses as it was written in the Torah, the Sadducees rejected the validity of the “Oral Law” while the Pharisees embraced it.  The Oral Law was an additional set of laws and commands that were, according to tradition, transmitted orally from Mount Sinai to Moses, but were never written down as part of the Law.  Because the Oral Law was never written down, it tended to evolve over the years in as it was reinterpreted and retold.
  • The Sadducees felt that the Pharisees were being corrupted by Greek culture and ideology.  They asserted that the Pharisees were a threat to traditional Judaism.

So how did these two groups relate to each other?

In terms of religious practice and philosophy the Pharisees and the Sadducees had very different viewpoints.  The Pharisees wanted to add more rules and commands to make the Law more relevant and enforceable.  The Sadducees didn’t accept the validity of anything that wasn’t written in the Law so they ignored whatever the Pharisees came up with.  As the privileged elite they had a deeply vested interest in the status quo.  The Pharisees were always second class compared to the Sadducees in terms of wealth, power, and privilege.

Even though they disagreed about their approach to the Law they were not enemies and they cooperated with each other in the execution of the religious practices and political responsibilities of the day.   Both, for example, believed in strict enforcement of the Law through the use of punishment, unlike Jesus who did not approve of this..

So what was their “yeast”?

I would say that the yeast of the Pharisees was the expanding legalism, while the yeast of the Sadducees was mindless obedience to ancient tradition.

Why does Jesus tell them to be “on their guard”?

When I read this advice from Jesus to his disciples I am reminded of day 129 when Jesus says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.”  In the Day 129 scripture Jesus describes good yeast. In this scripture we learn that there is also bad yeast.  Yeast is the concepts and teachings that influence the direction of society, which is represented by the bread.

Good yeast, good bread.  Excellent chef.

Good yeast, good bread. Excellent chef.

Nobody likes bread like my husband.  For many years he made homemade bread every couple of days using his beloved bread making machine.  We’ve gone through a lot of experience with yeast, and if you want to have good bread you have to have good, lively yeast.  Without fresh yeast your bread will turn out like a heavy brick.  Hard as a rock. Pitiful and inedible.

The yeast of the Sadducees was too old and stale and would not cause the dough to rise.  The Sadducees bread would be flat and heavy.  The yeast of the Pharisees was tainted and, while the dough might rise, the bread would taste sour.  Only the Kingdom of Heaven yeast that Jesus was mixing into the bread dough of society would rise correctly and produce good, light, tasty bread.

What is Kingdom of Heaven yeast?  Joy, freedom, love, peace, equality, justice, things like that.  Abundant life.

So if you want to have good bread you have to be able to tell the difference between good yeast and bad yeast.  Both mindless traditionalism and religious legalism are bad teachings, bad yeast.  Just as true today as back then.  So be on your guard against bad teaching, folks.  Avoid the yeast of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees if you want to produce good bread and do the work of God

What does this scripture say to you?

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