Baking with the Pharisees

Jesus said to them, “Watch out and be on your guard for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “We didn’t bring any bread.” – Matthew 16:6-7

Jesus was trying to tell the disciples to be wary of the false teachings of religious authorities like the Pharisees and Sadducees. He compared them to the yeast that makes bread rise, telling them to be wary of what they end up baking. 

The disciples didn’t quite understand this metaphor. They had forgotten to bring the bread, and they didn’t know what Jesus was getting at here. Was he mad there was no bread? Was he trying to tell them where to find good bread? Should they not go to the Pharisees and Sadducees Bakery?

I sometimes picture Jesus as an exasperated high school literature teacher. He says something, and everyone takes it literally. I picture him pushing back his glasses and rubbing his temple saying, “Metaphors, guys. Metaphors.”

The metaphors Jesus uses are what make his teachings so real. He could have just as easily said “Don’t listen to the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Instead, he paints a picture. He tries to tell the disciples how even the smallest amount of yeast can change everything. Whatever else might go into the loaf, bad yeast makes bad bread. False teachings might look harmless at first, but if they get mixed into our lives, they can hurt everything.

I sometimes wonder if our lack of engagement with the Bible in mainline churches means that we are failing to teach people how to read with depth and wonder. When I read the Bible, I try to remember that sometimes metaphors contain more truth than literal meanings. Jesus wasn’t talking about literal bread here, for instance. He was concerned with something far greater, with the potential to either nourish or starve us. 

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus uses the mundane in order to teach us great spiritual truths. Have we become so disengaged with our Scripture that we just wonder why Jesus is talking about bread? Or, are we ready to see the ways Jesus is trying to explain the unexplainable?


Jesus, when you talk to me about bread, help me to think beyond bakeries. Amen. 

dd-emilyheath.jpgAbout the Author
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.