Watch What You Eat | Mark 8:14–15
14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
The disciples just witnessed a second miraculous feeding (8:1–9), but they apparently sent all the leftovers with the departing crowd. Despite the contentious greeting from the Pharisees (8:10–13), the ironic lack of bread still seems to be on the disciples’ minds. Jesus uses hunger as an opportunity to warn them of the dangers of false teaching and philosophies. He typifies yeast—the agent causing bread to rise—as the image of a pervasive influence of sin. These are wise lessons for us, as well.
We need to beware the leaven of the Pharisees. He warns against the teaching of the Pharisees (Mt 16:12) as well as their hypocrisy (Lk 6:12). Well, the leaven of the Pharisees, while perhaps important in the past to the Jewish people, had now turned, leading to false doctrinal conclusions and hypocritical applications. As we saw in Mark 7, they departed from and rejected Scripture for the sake of their tradition (Mk 7:8–9). As such, while the “Jews demand signs,” the message of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to them (1 Cor 1:22–23).
We need to beware the leaven of the Herodians (and the Sadducees). Matthew adds “the Sadducees” (Mt 16:6), which would include Herod. They were a snooty group that typically denied miracles, the existence of angels or the immortal soul, etc. Of course, just like the Pharisees (vv. 11–12), Herod did desire to see if Jesus could work a miracle (Lk 23:8). In Herod’s case, it’s not that he was too religious, but too fleshly and worldly. We saw how he allowed young, attractive women to turn his head, eventually murdering John the Baptist for it (6:17–29).
In Ecclesiastes 7:16, God warns, “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” That sums up their problem; the Pharisees became self-righteous in their religion, and the Sadducees in their intellectualism. The sinful heart will find any idol to replace Jesus—whether it be religious, political, or intellectual pursuits, or base immorality. Take heed and beware what you feed yourself.