“Are your hearts hardened?” (Mark 8:18).
In one of his parables, Jesus compared the coming of the Kingdom of God to leaven, an invisible enzyme that permeates the baking process and causes the dough to rise.
In today’s Gospel, he uses the same image to describe the effect that hypocrisy and spiritual blindness can have on people. He warns his disciples to beware of the “leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.”
The Pharisees were blind to God’s spirit because of their legalism, and Herod represented a materialistic view that reduced life to pleasure-seeking. Both attitudes could also permeate a person’s vision and sense of purpose.
The disciples show that they are only thinking on the literal and physical level when they assume he is talking about having enough bread with them in the boat. Jesus realizes how far they are from perceiving spiritually, and he reminds them that on several occasions they have had more bread than they needed.
In our own progress toward discipleship, we also need to understand that we are called to a deeper perception of how God is present in the world and in us. The leaven of the Holy Spirit works mysteriously, invisibly and with subtlety. Jesus communicates with metaphors, parables and images that call us to reflect more deeply on his teachings. He speaks to our hearts.
How easily we are infected with literalism, legalism and the propaganda that permeates our modern culture and politics. Even Christians can be blinded and have their hearts hardened by simplistic caricatures of people as “illegal” and therefore “criminal,” when what we are talking about are ordinary people who came to this country for the same reasons our grandparents came, but have been caught in a political paralysis that has provided no comprehensive immigration policy. Or people are made restless and anxious by constant warnings about enemies within and without as a way to promote walls and borders or more and more weapons as the solution.
How easily our consumer culture with its sophisticated use of media can immerse us in the desire for more and more things, technology, fashion, machines, food and clothing, distracting us from social questions of justice and the call to compassion for others.
To be with Jesus is to open our minds and hearts to the voice of the Spirit that enters us like leaven, permeating every aspect of our lives with the new life that rises within us. This is the joy of the Gospel.