The Dull Heart Makers

July 4, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 8:14-21

1. In today's gospel reading for today Jesus said the following. "Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod!," (verse fifteen). This is the message given to us for today [from the Lord].

The Leaven Of The Pharisees And The Leaven Of Herod

2. The Pharisees. They appear a lot in this gospel. They appear in the section just before [this passage]. "As the Pharisees came trying to test Jesus, they asked for a sign from heaven and challenged him in debate." Where it says they asked for a sign from heaven they were, in effect, saying, "If you are the messiah, then show us a sign!" They aren't asking for a sign because they want to believe. Evidently, since they don't want to believe, they ask for a sign [thinking he couldn't deliver one]. Their animosity towards him is apparent by the phrases, "trying to test Jesus," "challenged him in debate." If we wonder why they provoked a debate, it was because they were a bit frustrated from before. The Pharisees and the scribes of the law appeared in chapter seven. They were thrust out into a painful place and knocked over flat with humiliation. So they came for a re-match.

3. When we look at chapter seven, the text says, "Having come from Jerusalem, the Pharisees and a number of the scribes of the law assembled before Jesus. And, they saw the defiled hands among Jesus' disciples, that is, there were some who ate with unwashed hands," (7:1-2). The text said, "they saw," however, [I want to make] the point that the text [literally] says, "They were bothered by [the disciples' eating with unwashed hands]." That's why they demanded an explanation from Jesus. "Why do your disciples eat a meal with defiled hands, not walking in accordance with the ancient traditions of men?"

4. Why were they bothered over the disciples' not keeping the ancient traditions of men? The Pharisees [were bothered] because they themselves had kept the ancient traditions of men with all their might. Their practice is written about in this manner, "Beginning with the Pharisees, all the Jews strictly kept the ancient traditions of men, they did not eat unless it was after carefully washing their hands, and when they had returned from market, they did not eat unless it was after purifying their bodies. Besides that, inheriting them from ancient times, there were a lot of things they strictly kept such as the washing of cups, bowls, copper vessels, and recliners," (Mark 7:3-4). Such folks worry about what other people do. What's more, if people keep [the traditions] and keep [them] happily, that should suffice, however, the people who keep things reluctantly, out of a sense of duty, habitually feel that "I am practicing things to my very best" [but] are bothered by those who don't keep [them]. They are bothered by the people who don't practice [things] like they do. They like to criticize. That's how it is.

5. So why have they gone so far and with all their might kept the ancient traditions of men? Have they kept the religious ordinances? For one thing, many a time they have worried themselves about what other people see. The person who looks critically at others worries about whether he or she is being criticized as well. Thus, they are at their best at not being criticized. However, on a deeper [level], [they] have transactions with God. They do their best to keep the commandments. Why? Because if they don't, they won't receive anything good from God, nor will they receive eternal life. Any way, they try to receive good from God by carrying out their duties exactly, even formally. Those kinds of transactions we call legalism.

6. This is the leaven of the Pharisees. When [something] contains just a little bit of leaven, that is, yeast, the whole thing swells. Thus, when legalism enters into the faith practice, it will exert its influence into the whole thing. Therefore, Jesus said, "Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees!"

7. Then there is the other kind, "the leaven of Herod." Besides the Pharisee sect in this gospel, a sect by the name of "the Herodians" is found. In chapter three, a disturbing thing is written, "The Pharisees leave, and immediately, along with the Herodians they begin to discuss how to murder Jesus," (3:6).

8. This is so curiously strange. I say that because the Pharisees and the Herodians were like cats and dogs to each other. If we can call the Pharisees the representatives of the religious people, then the Herodians are the representatives for the secular people. They are the political group which supports the territorial ruler of Galilee named Herod Antipas. This same Herod Antipas is the character who cut off the head of John the Baptizer. Generally speaking, Herod was not supported by the religious Jews. The supporters of Herod were the people who received the favors and the benefits of his authority. They were willing to protect their interests, which they already had. Since this is what mattered most to them, God's [business] came second.

9. Those who thought of God's [business] were willing to make transactions with God. Those who did not think of God thought it was important to have this world's authority and its people in one's possession. I would say the Pharisees are the former, and the Herodians are the latter. Jesus didn't only say "Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees!", he said, "Watch out for the leaven of the Herodians!" The leaven of the Herodians is secularism, that is, a focus on the here and now of this world.

We Must Trust In God's Grace

10. So, a pharisaical leaven and a herodian leaven. They seem completely opposite to each other, on opposite sides of the spectrum. I repeat, originally the Pharisees and the Herodians were like cats and dogs to each other. However, there is a common ground between them. So they get together and unite in their opposition against Jesus.

11. What is this common ground between them? It is that point where their eyes turn only towards a human direction. As for the Pharisees, they are bothered by human behaviors. What [behaviors] is the other guy putting into practice? And what [behaviors] am I putting into practice? Legalism is this matter of turning one's concerns towards human actions and behaviors in observance of the law. That's how [they see] it; because they think what decides it for a person is what one does [in regard to the practice of the law], and the good things or the bad things God will give [as part of the transactional nature of legalism]. Then, on the other hand, as for the Herodians, they trouble themselves with what a person has, whether it's somebody else or themselves. How much authority does a person have? How much clout does a person have? How many assets does a person have? What does a person have? Since they do not think about God, what happens next in this case is that only matters pertaining to human beings matter in their minds. Thus, whether it's the leaven of the Pharisees or the leaven of Herod, it is the same point in that their eyes are going only in a human direction, their orientation is on humans.

12. In contrast to that, how was Jesus on this? He preached, "The kingdom of God is near." He stated that the rule of God's overwhelming grace has already come and that people can live in it. God's overwhelming grace is already [present] in Jesus' having come into the world. God sent even his only son into the world. By doing that God revealed his love. Through the coming of Jesus God revealed his unfathomable grace, [and] that he is ready to save this world, even us.

13. Everything that Jesus did is but a sign of that. Even Jesus' eating a meal with sinners was a sign to show forth each and every person as the object of God's love. His having healed [people], no matter how much suffering he or she was in the middle of, was a sign that God was ready to save. That's the way God's overwhelming grace came. The sign of the bread that Jesus gave was a sign that showed the overwhelming grace of God. People should just trust in God's grace. They should believe. When they believe, they can live in [his] grace.

14. But now, how do things turn out when the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of the Herodians enter in? Even though the overwhelming grace of God was already [present] insofar as he had sent Jesus, their eyes went only towards humankind. In fact, even the disciples were that way. They forgot they had brought bread. They happened to have in the boat with them just one thing of bread. Humankind makes blunders like that. Or else they come up short or poor like here. But when someone is in the overwhelming grace of God, you aren't likely to make that big of a deal out of such things. Are you? Things are fine even when you say I forgot the bread. Things are fine even when you only have one thing of bread. Things really are. But, when poisoned by the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of the Herodians you don't turn your thoughts on the immensity of God's grace. Your eyes only go on your failures, your shortages.

15. Even worse still, I have the feeling you [feel] blamed for those failures and shortages. When Jesus said, "Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod!," what did they think about it? It says, "The disciples argued with each other, because they did not have bread." They felt since they did not have bread they were being blamed by Jesus. Jesus did not blame them for any of their failures. He did not blame them for any of their shortages. However I feel like he does blame them for being poisoned by the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. -- Because their eyes are only going in a human direction. Because their eyes are only on their failures and shortages.

16. At that point Jesus says, "' When I broke the five loaves of bread for the five thousand people, how many baskets were there, that were full of the leftover bread that you collected up?' The disciples said, 'There were twelve.' 'When I broke the seven loaves of bread for the four thousand people, how many baskets were there, that were full of the leftover bread that you collected up?' When they said, "There were seven,' Jesus said, 'Don't you understand yet?'," (verses nineteen through twenty-one). Once again Jesus tried to turn their eyes on the wealth of God's overwhelming grace which had already been shown. -- Because they were right there in the midst of this grace from God. Because they were in the same boat with Jesus. Therefore, they were fine whether they had failures or had shortages.

17. That's right, we are just like them, we are in the middle of the wealth of God's overwhelming grace. -- Because our sins have already been atoned for and we've been made children of God because Christ has already come and more particularly because he has been crucified. Therefore, whether you have failures or shortages or deficiencies or it looks like there won't be enough no matter how you look at it, it will be fine. We must come to this realization. What we need to do is only believe. We should trust in what God does.

18. Jesus said, "Why are you arguing over not having bread? Don't you understand yet? Don't you realize the truth? What is hardening your hearts?" What is hardening and making your hearts dull? It is the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. We must watch out for this.