20 October 2017
What shall we say about Abraham, the ancestor from whom we are all descended? If Abraham was justified as a reward for doing something, he would really have had something to boast about, though not in God’s sight because scripture says: Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him. And David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:
Happy those whose crimes are forgiven, whose sins are blotted out; happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.
The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak, first of all to his disciples. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy. Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. For this reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be proclaimed on the housetops.
‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.’
Every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid.
A little yeast is a dangerous thing. Throughout the Bible, yeast is referred to repeatedly. Scripture speaks of yeast in this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Mt 13:33). But in most places, yeast seems to have a negative connotation, as we read in the Gospel today “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy” (Lk 12:1). Elsewhere, we are called to bring unleavened bread and wafers as our offering to God (Lev 10:12; Num 6:14-15; etc). For Holy Communion, we use unleavened wafers to represent the Body of Christ.
Initially, I was a little confused between this reference to yeast and salt. Why is salt good and why are we called to be ‘salt of the earth’ (Mt 5:13; Mk 9:50)? But yeast seems to hint at different meanings. Yeast is used as leitmotif for sin and evil intentions in one place, but is also used as a peace offering and wave offering to God (Lev 7:13; 23:17).
I suppose this is the very thing that Jesus warns us against – this ‘yeast of hypocrisy’. It is hard to be certain when yeast can be used for good or bad. Haven’t we experienced something of this nature in our personal experiences before? Conversations amongst a church community may start with the best intentions of sharing faith experiences, but can also become a stumbling block for those who begin to believe themselves more faithful or obedient than others. It is truly no easy balancing act!
I believe the clue to understanding this is seen in the first reading today – the age-old question of what justifies us in God’s eyes. This is where the symbiotic and intertwining relationship of faith and good works comes to bear. St Paul tells the Romans: “Abraham put his faith in God, and this faith was considered as justifying him. If a man has work to show, his wages are not considered as a favour but as his due; but when a man has nothing to show except faith in the one who justifies sinners, then his faith is considered as justifying him” (Rm 4:2-4). Abraham had to ‘put his faith in God’, and not merely ‘have faith’. This is evidence of an active faith – one that required a living action and not a passive reception (Jas 2:14-26). This is the trip-up that Jesus calls us to be on guard against.
Faith and Works are like flour and yeast; though their significance can differ according to each person. It is the foolish man who thinks he knows which parts of his faith and how many parts of his good works contribute to counting him worthy in God’s eyes. How will we ever know? It is not for us to count towards our self-justification. After all, David says the same: a man is happy if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds:
Happy those whose crimes are forgiven,
whose sins are blotted out;
happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Help us Lord, to humbly discern our own spiritual needs and cultivate our own faith garden. Help us not to peek over the fences into our neighbour’s garden to compare spiritual fruits which are yours alone to give.
Thanksgiving: Happy the man whom the Lord considers sinless!