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13 February 2018

Amazing stuff, yeast.

It’s microscopic, so if you are not paying attention you can miss the wonder of its activity, bringing about, in quiet, subtle, gradual ways, some pretty dramatic changes. It is yeast that, with the help of a good oven, transforms a simple combination of flour, salt, and water into a beautiful sourdough loaf. It is yeast that transforms grapes grown in the right landscape, in the right climate and in a good season into a hauntingly aromatic, gloriously textured liquid that can mature and grow in beauty and complexity for decades.

As winemakers know however, not all yeasts are beneficial. Along with the hundreds of natural strains of ‘good’ yeasts, there are also spoilage yeasts. These can do a lot of damage if they get a hold of your wine. If a ‘spoilage’ yeast gets in, you can end up with wine that smells like the wrong end of a horse. Not good.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses a discussion about bread as an opportunity to warn the disciples to, ‘Keep your eyes open; be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ It is hard to understand Jesus’ use of language at times, but I think He means something like this: Take great care what you allow to influence your thinking. Especially beware the Pharisaic spirit of subtle religious pride, which will tempt you to lift yourself up in your own estimation because of your capacity to do spiritual stuff (with a bit more regularity than ‘others you could mention’.) And watch out for the Herodian political spirit, the one that pushes you towards engaging in subtly manipulative behaviours, using others to further your own ends and get yourself into positions of power. These subtle but destructive temptations are spoilage yeasts of the first order. Over the centuries they have great done great damage to the community of the Church. Resist them!

Lent starts tomorrow.
It is the season to get free from any spoilage yeast that has crept in to your life and to receive something altogether different: the transforming power of the kingdom of God. Remember the words of Jesus:

“What shall I compare the Kingdom of God with? It is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.” (Luke 13.20-21)

Make this Lent count. Get the right yeast into you. You’ll smell a lot better as a result!

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