I don’t eat much bread these days. Its a pity because I like the taste of yeasty bread. Every since I was a young boy and my mother would bake bread or biscuits, I would beg for some raw dough. There was just something nice about the taste of wheat, salt, and yeast all together.  I recently heard an interview of a man who has studied the history of fermentation and its impact on human culture. Every race and nation has used yeast and fermentation to create a wide variety of dishes and then developed many cultural observances around both the dish and the process. What the fermentation process did was to make some foods more digestible and available. I mean where would we be without beer, wine, bread, and cheese.

When I started baking my own bread, I came to appreciate how  versatile  yeast could be. Of course, you have to learn to use the right amount and to keep it at the right temperature, but once introduced to the wheat, it was amazing how the yeast would permeate the lump of dough. Even though you would mix and knead the dough, the yeasties would only grow stronger. It was always fun to see how much the dough would rise and even after you punched it down, it would rise again. A little yeast would go a long way.

There are many different kinds of yeast, but there is one that is the most powerful of all.  It was used long before the first bread or wine was ever made. It affects all human activity and behavior.  In Luke 12, Jesus speaks about this leaven, or yeast, and tells us to avoid it at all costs. He called it the leaven of the Pharisees, but it does not exclusively belong to them. This leaven is called by another name – hypocrisy.

Let’s understand what this leaven is and what it is not. This is especially important since you often hear people accuse Christians of being hypocrites.

A simple definition says that hypocrisy is the state of promoting  virtues, moral or religious beliefs, etc., that one does not actually have and is also guilty of violating. Notice that there are two parts in this definition: first,  promoting what you don’t really believe in, and second, failure to uphold what you really believe in.

Given the virtues and values of Christianity, who is not guilty of violating them? Yet, I would hold that this is not a Christian problem, but a human problem. Someone said to me that they didn’t go to Church because hypocrites go there. I asked him if he went to the movies and he replied that he did. So I asked him if any hypocrites went to the movies and if so, why does he go there. The reality is that few of us successfully live out the values that we hold.

Samuel Johnson notes this difference. “Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.”

If hypocrisy is an unavoidable aspect of life, what was Jesus warning about?

The first part of the definition spoke about promoting what we don’t really believe in. In this sense, hypocrisy often involves the deception of others and thus can be considered a kind of lie. It is attempting to portray myself as something other than what I really am. In fact, in ancient Greece, the term was used to describe an actor who portrayed himself as something that he was not.  Often this actor wore a mask to cover his true identity.

So real hypocrisy is an intentional deception and intention implies a matter of the heart. Often Jesus upbraided the Pharisees because while they promoted a strict adherence to the rules (and Jesus had no problem with the rules), they neglected the most important aspect of the law-the heart. It can be this way for us. We come to worship, but our hearts are somewhere else. We follow the rules of the Faith, but we don’t really believe that doing so will make much difference. When we are this way, we have been filled with the leaven of the Pharisees. This is different from believing with our hearts, and striving to be true, but failing because of our weakness.

The leaven of hypocrisy is always with us.  No one lives up to what they profess. But lets avoid the leaven of the Pharisees where for the sake of pride, or prestige, or gain, we wear a mask in order to deceive others.

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