Today’s account from the Gospel of Mark is a continuation from what we read yesterday when Jesus convicted the Pharisees for demanding a sign. He recognized their hardness of heart and hypocrisy and with the opportunity of being together in the boat, Jesus seized on this encounter as a teachable moment. He wanted to warn those of his inner circle to be aware not follow the same path of corruption when he enjoined them: “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mk 8:15).
The disciples missed the point as they focused on the literal reality that they only had one loaf of bread among them. Jesus was warning his followers about the danger of pride, seeking honor, power, and fame that has lead the Pharisees and Herod astray. To be his followers, striving to place self first would be not only the undoing of each of them, but have a dramatic effect on those who they would be charged to care for.
Unfortunately, too many have not heeded the teachable moment that Jesus offered to his disciples regarding being aware of the corrupting leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. One of the worst expressions and deepest degradations of this kind of destructive behavior has been witnessed by the vast world-wide cases of abuse of minors, women and at-risk adults within and without of the Church, documented and undocumented.
The reasons for such abuse are multilayered and complex, yet one thing is clear, those who seek to abuse will continue to search for opportunities to do so. Pope Francis has called for the leaders of the bishops conferences world wide to come together for a four day summit this Thursday. Let us pray that their efforts be led by the Holy Spirit so to build on those provisions already put in place since 2002, demand more transparency with past cases of abuse, put in place provisions to hold bishops accountable, provide greater access for those wishing to come forward to share their stories, to give voice to the voiceless, as well as allow greater access to healing resources.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna who has been a champion in fighting abuse, provides some hope. He was recently asked in a press conference about the upcoming summit regarding whether the code of silence has any place in the church today, and he said, “We have to break away from the code of silence; we must break away from any complicity to deny, only the truth will make us free.”
We too need to do our best to be aware of what Jesus shared. We too need to be aware of the sinful leaven that would seek to undo each of us. It is easy to point fingers. Let us choose God over our own self serving pursuits, seek to live simple and holy lives while seeking to be aware of the needs of others and working to serve, protect, and empower the dignity of those in our midst each day.