Today’s account from the Gospel of Mark is a continuation of what we read Saturday 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 to 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 which had lead the Pharisees and Herod astray. To be his followers, striving to place themselves first would be not only the undoing of each of them but also this posture would undermine those they would be charged to care for.
Unfortunately, too many have not heeded this lesson that Jesus offered in today’s Gospel to his disciples regarding being aware of the corrupting leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Just as the effects of original sin has wounded humanity, so it has also affected those in the Church. Throughout the ages clergy as well as laity have succumbed to the temptations of placing our needs and focus on ourselves instead of God and who he calls us to serve.
Yet throughout the worst of corruption and abuse, the Church is still here. God continues to work through many who are faithful to his invitation and follow his will in simple ways, living lives of quiet service. It is unfortunate that there are those who leave because they see hypocrisy, injustice, abuse, and corruption. For it is those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear that need to stay and help to fight for the true expression of the Church. Even when cries for reform may be stifled and frustrations may arise time and again, we must remain persistent and lean on Jesus to give us the strength and clarity on how best to proceed to heal his wounded body.
At the same time, we need to be aware of the sinful leaven that would seek to undo each of us. It is easy to point fingers. We will be on surer footing when we 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 work to serve, protect, and empower the dignity of those in our midst each day.
Photo: Sunset at Our Lady of Florida Retreat Center, on retreat with our students last week.