Summary: They are so hungry that they miss the point Jesus is trying to make. Will we miss that point, too?
Tuesday of the 6th Week in Course 2020
“You Just Don’t Get It”
I’ve been a teacher pretty much all my career, at all levels except elementary school. So I can empathize with St. James in his epistle, and–although it’s weird to say it–with Jesus as He tries to help His disciples understand the requirements for living in the Kingdom of God. In both places we can see someone scratching his head and heaving a great sigh, saying “People, you just don’t get it, do you?”
If you’ve ever gotten an e-mail from some Nigerian prince who claims to need your help getting five or ten million dollars out of his country, you might wonder who in his right mind would respond to such an obvious phishing attack. I guess the answer must be that somebody does, or those thieves would stop doing it. If you throw enough mud onto a wall, some of it will stick. If you bet that everyone is honest and intelligent, sooner or later you’ll lose the bet.
Saint James wrote one of the most insightful and useful letters in the New Testament. Now Martin Luther called it an “epistle of straw” largely because James tells us that good works prove our faith, and that faith without good works is without value. But James’s words are pure gold. For instance, you may recall that someone back in 2017 criticized the translation of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that picture Our Lord teaching His prayer to the disciples. The translation asks God “lead us not into temptation.” But the Father, St. James clearly state, is neither tempted nor does He tempt anyone. He does, however, permit Satan and our own fallen nature to tempt us to sin. St. James tells us that temptation results from our own disordered desires, not from some sadistic plot of our God. God only provides the grace to resist temptation and conquer Satan; it is our decision what to do with that powerful donation.
Now look at this scene of Jesus trying to teach His disciples. They forgot to bring bread, and they are stuck in a boat, a dozen or more of them hungry with no way to find food. Jesus takes advantage of the situation, which comes right after He has fed several thousand with almost nothing, and tells them to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” But they just don’t get it. They are so hungry that they miss the point Jesus is trying to make. Will we miss that point, too?
Leaven is the attitude a person brings to any action or thought, an attitude that affects the outcome for good or ill. The Pharisees’ leaven, which comes out in all the Gospels, is an attitude of legalism. If you keep the letter of Torah even more than you have to, by applying to a lay person all the laws that govern the priests, you’ll be a rock star in God’s kingdom. All that does, Jesus knew, is occupy all of the person’s energy doing trivial things like avoiding shellfish and calculating the tithe to the nearest penny. And why is that wrong? Because it takes our energy away from love and performing acts of love, especially for the poor and powerless.
The leaven of Herod is even more crude. It’s an attitude we could call secular, where one’s personal pleasure and satisfaction is the most important thing to center one’s energy on. It leads to the saddest form of self-indulgence, and the kind of political power that can bankrupt a nation and lead to revolution. The leaven of Herod.
Instead, in the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, everyone works toward the good of everyone else. Nobody is concerned about his personal power, or satisfaction, or the approval of others. Everyone is consumed with care for others, and right worship of God. Everything they need then can flow easily from the hand of God.
Jesus, and James, did not give up educating their disciples. So Jesus tells His hungry followers to clear the cobwebs from their memories: Listen up, people, and open your ears and minds. When five thousand needed feeding, did they have enough? Yes, God did that through my ministry, and you had more than enough to share.
When will we all learn that lesson? Our trust in God must be constant and complete, for He cannot be anything but loving and giving, and He wants us to be like that as well, like Our Lord and His Mother. Believe, and hope, and love God and your neighbor. Nothing else is worth our attention.