Bewaring of Bad Leaven and Becoming Good Leaven, 6th Tuesday (II), February 13, 2018

Fr. Roger J. Landry
IESE Business School, Manhattan
Leonine Forum Mass
Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
February 13, 2018
Jas 1:12-18, Ps 94, Mk 8:14-21


To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples with him in the boat to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. Leaven, we know, is small and almost imperceptible but it gives growth to bread. The leaven of the Pharisees was what we observed yesterday, this incessant desire for signs, for external works of the law, for arguing with Jesus and rejecting him. It’s their hypocrisy, their being whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but full of filth and death on the inside. It’s their focus on straining out gnats and swallowing camels. The leaven of Herod means a sensual and a political approach to life without sincerity in the relationship with God, something we see in St. Mark’s Gospel earlier when Herod just wants to meet Jesus when he hears about him because some said he was John the Baptist risen from the dead. In both cases, their leaven was an absence of real faith, it was not a focus on God but on themselves, on their own works, their own pleasures, their own doubts and questions.
  • Jesus then described a different type of leaven, what we might call a divine yeast, shown in the two different miracles of the multiplications of loaves and fish. The leaven he wants is faith, is trust in God, is confidence that even if the apostles didn’t bring bread into the boat that somehow God would take care of them like he took care of the vast multitudes with the multiplications. Jesus asks us the same question he asked them, “Do you still not understand?” Jesus wants the leaven of faith to grow in us, so that we trust in him more and more. He tells us elsewhere in the Gospel that unless we convert and become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of God. To become childlike is to grow in trust. Sometimes as we age we become more cynical, less faithful, less trusting in God or in anyone else. We become “wise” in worldly calculations but foolish in faith. Jesus wants to give us a different type of growth.
  • St. James talks about the bad leaven of growth in succumbing to temptation versus the good leaven of growth through persevering faith in temptation. The one who perseveres faithfully during trials is “blessed” and will receive the “crown of life” after having been proven. On the other hand, he also describes the curse of succumbing to temptation and what it can lead to, death. He first says that no one should say, “I am being tempted by God” because God doesn’t tempt. He permits temptations so that we may pass the test of temptations with fidelity, but he doesn’t send them. The root of our temptations, St. James describes, is our desires. God has made us desire good things and we always desire things under the “aspect of good.” Thieves desire the good of material possessions. Vengeful people desire the good of others’ not doing harm. Lustful people desire the good of human sexuality and love. The problem is that they desire these goods in a disordered way, outside of the hierarchy of goods willed by God. They want property without working for it, or the other’s ceasing to do evil through suffering violence, or sex and love apart from marriage and the love of God. Once we begin to desire things disordinately, we get drawn by those desires to sin, and if we don’t repent, we become corrupt and spiritually die, by making the fulfillment of such desires  more important than God. St. James describes the process in the following way: “each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.”
  • The solution to this growth in sin through caving into our tempted desires is the Word of God, not just knowing it, by clinging to it and living it. St. James says that God “willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The Responsorial Psalm builds on this, that the man who takes God’s instruction is blessed: “Blessed the man whom you instruct, O Lord, whom by your law you teach, Giving him rest from evil days. … When I say, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your mercy, O Lord, sustains me; When cares abound within me, your comfort gladdens my soul.” God wants to sustain us, just like Jesus was sustained in the desert while being tempted by the devil, by his holy word, not just known but believed and enfleshed. As we prepare tomorrow for the beginning of Lent, God wants not only to help the leaven of faith in us to grow but to help us become his leaven to raise up the world.
  • And he does that most powerfully in the Holy Eucharist, where he implants himself in us as the most powerful leaven of hall, to help us become, not like the Pharisees or the Herodians or the Sadducees, but like him and the saints who glorify him.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
JAS 1:12-18

Blessed is he who perseveres in temptation,
for when he has been proven he will receive the crown of life
that he promised to those who love him.
No one experiencing temptation should say,
“I am being tempted by God”;
for God is not subject to temptation to evil,
and he himself tempts no one.
Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire.
Then desire conceives and brings forth sin,
and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters:
all good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.
He willed to give us birth by the word of truth
that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 94:12-13A, 14-15, 18-19

R. (12a) Blessed the man you instruct, O Lord.
Blessed the man whom you instruct, O LORD,
whom by your law you teach,
Giving him rest from evil days.
R. Blessed the man you instruct, O Lord.
For the LORD will not cast off his people,
nor abandon his inheritance;
But judgment shall again be with justice,
and all the upright of heart shall follow it.
R. Blessed the man you instruct, O Lord.
When I say, “My foot is slipping,”
your mercy, O LORD, sustains me;
When cares abound within me,
your comfort gladdens my soul.
R. Blessed the man you instruct, O Lord.

MK 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.
Jesus enjoined them, “Watch out,
guard against the leaven of the Pharisees
and the leaven of Herod.”
They concluded among themselves that
it was because they had no bread.
When he became aware of this he said to them,
“Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread?
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,
when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand,
how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
They answered him, “Twelve.”
“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand,
how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?”
They answered him, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”