The Power of a Little Grain of Yeast

“Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, 'Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees—beware of their hypocrisy.'” (Luke 12:1)

I think sometimes it can be so easy for us, today, to look back at the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and turn up our noses at their behavior, their ignorance.

The thing is, it is so easy for us to fall into those same traps and find ourselves baking with their same yeast, that—like them—we don’t even realize the extent of it.

This was not the first time Jesus warned his followers about the yeast of the Pharisees. Even in the Old Testament, yeast had taken on a connotation of that which is to be avoided, most notably when the Israelites had to remove all yeast from the camp once a year to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, which was a time of cleansing and removing sin from the community as they remembered how God delivered them from slavery. (Exodus 12:17-20)

So yeast often takes on this metaphor for sin, because it is an agent that creeps in ever so subtly and then is able to infiltrate the entire loaf. In baking my own bread, I see this in action every week. You add just a couple teaspoons of yeast—barely any compared with the amount of flour and water and milk that you use—and yet without the yeast, you cannot get a fluffy slice of bread.

It is interesting to note that in one of Jesus’ own parables, though, he takes this idea of yeast flourishing and turns it on its head, using it instead as a symbol for heaven: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast used by a woman making bread. Even though she used a large amount of flour, the yeast permeated every part of the dough.” (Mark 13:33)

That ability of yeast—though it is added in small quantities, it grows and effects the whole of the dough—is what makes it so illustrative in these parables. 

It’s why Jesus warns his followers to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees: Not only can a little kernel of evil grow and make a good Jewish man want to see the Son of God hung on a cross, but the evil of that man can then permeate the entire of the church, of the people, of the world. The evil in a single man’s heart can multiply and affect not only himself, but also everyone around him.
And it’s there that I see the link between me and those long-ago Pharisees. Yes, they cheered when Jesus died, whereas I cheer that Jesus was raised from the dead. But the fact is that, for both of us, what evil we allow in our own hearts, what pain we cause through our own actions, has incredible ramifications that go much deeper than we realize.

What I do and say and think and don’t do or say or think affects those around me. If it’s good, it can encourage more good, just like in the Kingdom of God parable. But if it is bad, like that of the Pharisees, then it can be a poison to the world around me. To my husband, to my family, to my friends, to my church.
Just as the disciples were warned to beware the yeast of the Pharisees, so I realize that I must beware the yeast in my own heart. Who knows what could come of it?

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  1. This is one of my favorite metaphors in the Bible, because it reminds me that sin can exist even in the most mundane, everyday parts of life. In the very "food" of life -- the things that we believe are vital to our way of living, the things that make life taste good. It's a nice reminder that evil takes all forms, and no one is completely separate from it. Nice explication & application of this metaphor!

  2. Oh, I love that reminder, Rachel! So, so true. And it totally made me laugh at the idea of me "explicating" in a blog post! Never thought about it like that before :)

  3. Thanks for posting this. Our church is going through this right now. There are behaviors occurring that need to change, and we are also struggling financially. It is frustrating, and mistakes have been made, and various folks haven't done what they said they would do, or were asked to do, and it is all very stressful. I need a reminder that words need to be chosen carefully, but I am finding it hard to balance "being nice" with "if all our behaviors remain the same, the problems continue". I also need to remember, much as I don't want to believe it, that I am not always right. Thanks for some good things to think over.

  4. Ironic that you wrote about this today. Some yeast of a party was just manifest today that caused a big rift between me and another. When people tell lies, it sure can be a problem. Hurtful. I am waiting for the emotions in me to subside before deciding how to handle the situation. Yeast, like fire, can be helpful or harmful.

  5. I've always wondered why God ordered the Israelites not to eat yeast at Passover...finally see the connection with the parable in the NT, so thankyou!

  6. As a couple of you point out, we not only have to watch out for ourselves being yeast (of the bad sort) but also we have to sort out how to deal with when others are being that kind of yeast around us! I hope that the Holy Spirit will encourage and guide you as you figure out how to deal with those unfortunate situations!

    Louise, no problem! I think it was in a Bible study I did one time (probably Psalms of Ascent by Beth Moore) where we talked about this connection, and it was so eye-opening for me, too! Glad I could pass it on :)


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