16 February 2009

Resisting the world's leaven

6th Week OT (Tues) Gn 6.5-8; 7.1-5, 10; Mk 8.14-21
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Is Jesus surprised or disappointed? Is he exasperated or angry? Maybe all of these and more? Once again his best students and closest friends fail to “get it.” Having lived with him, traveled with him, listened to him, badgered him with questions, witnessed his miracles, the disciples seem to be as deaf, dumb, and blind as they were the day he netted them and pulled them into his ministry, gaping like fish for a breath. Exhibiting the same obstinance that the Pharisees seemed to favor when dealing with Jesus, his own students apparently need some sign, some miraculous konk on the head in order to see who Jesus is and to hear his saving Word. Fortunately, for the disciples, Jesus was with them, right there with them to continue teaching them, to continue showing them his unfailing Way. Two thousand and nine years later, what do we have to open our eyes and unstop our ears? When we clamor for signs and wonders, who steps up and reminds us that faith is first and always about trust, about throwing ourselves on the powerful mercy of God?

In the time it takes to cross to the opposite shore of the sea, the disciples had forgotten the lesson of the fishes and loaves. The Pharisees come forward after this miracle and demand signs from heaven to prove Jesus’ divine mandate, signs he refuses to give. Once on the opposite shore, Jesus warns his friends against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, warning them against the poisonous influence of legalism and worldly politics. They think that Jesus is rebuking them for failing to bring bread. Frustrated, disappointed, he says, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember?”

They do not understand. Their hearts may be hardened. They are blind to his signs and deaf to his Word. And surely they have failed to remember. They have Jesus among them to remind them of their failures and to enlighten their ignorance. What do we have now when we find ourselves in the same predicament? Thanks be to God, we have Christ among us as well! What else is the Eucharist but our present-day miracle of the loaves? What else is scripture but our spoken Word, divine words that open eyes and unstop ears? What else we are doing here this morning as the Body of Christ than being reminded of who Christ is for us? We do not merely remember a story or recall a lesson, we witness again in this breaking of the bread the cross and Christ’s sacrifice. What other signs could we possibly want or need?

When we allow the leaven of the Pharisees—the poisonous influence of religious legalism—or the leaven of the Herodians—the poisonous influence of accommodating the Church to the world’s philosophy—we risk forgetting who we are; we risk confusion, loss, hard-heartedness, spiritual blindness, and eternal death. We risk not only our own lives here and here-after, but we risk the lives of those we are sent to save through our witness to God’s mercy. We cannot risk ignorance of God’s Word, so we read, hear, and enact His Self-revelation in scripture. We cannot risk misunderstanding, so we listen to and follow His Church’s apostolic faith. We cannot risk hard-heartedness, so we care for the least among His people. We cannot risk forgetting, so we come together as one heart and one mind and we remember. And in remembering what he did for us in this Eucharist, we go out, out there, and we tell others what we have remembered and to whom we give thanks and praise for our salvation.

If you have seen God’s abundance at work, if you have heard His saving Word, you cannot fail to share what your eyes have seen and your ears have heard. To fail in this is poisonous. To you and to everyone you meet. Thanks to be God, you never need to forget; you never need to grow cold. You have us and we all have Christ with us, always with us.


  1. Hallelujah! Jesus has found some CLOTHES!!

    morning Father.

  2. "And in remembering what we did for us in this Eucharist"

    I'm hoping that's a typo...otherwise I totally missed your point.

    Assuming I got it right...good sermon padre. thanks.

  3. Mom, you got it right...I goofed...I spotted the booboo right before Mass and corrected it for the podcast...

  4. So true it is easy to miss the miracle that was given to us in the Eucharist and to overlook it. I can become to preoccupied with worldly concerns and problems that I fail to see this myself.

  5. that Jesus chose such *humans,* these forgetful men to carry on His church~~ it gives me such hope!

  6. Mom,

    You would not have liked the "RCIA" process in the first few centuries of the Church...everyone was baptized in the nude. We don't know if Jesus was baptized naked, but no one should be surprised if it turned out he was. There was a time in the Jewish tradition when converts to Judaism were shaven clean (all over!) and then baptized. This is how we got female "deacons."