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Cultivating Faith Over Doubt
Gospel Reflection for February 14, 2023—Mark 8:14-21
Now they had forgotten to bring bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
And they discussed it with one another, saying, “We have no bread.”
And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?”
They said to him, “Twelve.”
“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
The Pharisees had a serious problem: lack of faith in YHWH, despite what they vocally claimed. They were constantly looking for physical signs rather than trusting the chosen Messiah through the divine gift of faith—“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). They needed tangible evidence before they could believe in something greater than themselves or the visible world. Testing God, rather than trusting God, had become their way of life.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus warns us all about the “leaven of the Pharisees” and the “leaven of Herod.” Leaven, when added to dough, permeates the entire loaf. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor 5:6)
Are we like the Pharisees, needing signs and wonders before we can believe the truth God is constantly revealing to us? In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul insists that “ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). Yet, despite God’s persistence and presence, doubt tends to rule the human heart.
Even Jesus’ closest disciples weren’t immune to this weakness of human nature. They’d just witnessed another miracle of multiplication of loaves and fish, yet as soon as their bellies began to rumble once again, they panicked. What would they have for dinner? How would they find enough to eat? They’d forgotten to pack bread, and the closest grocery store was thousands of years away. (Maybe that’s why Jesus had to keep stressing, over and over, the necessity of faith over fear—“Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink,” Matt. 6:25.)
Despite Jesus constantly revealing Himself, His disciples remained blinded by their doubt. The “leaven of the Pharisees” and the “leaven of Herod” are those attachments to our own (mis)perceptions, a clinging to self-reliance rather than to the divine protection and all-encompassing mercy of God. When leaven is introduced into dough it spreads throughout, causing the loaf to expand and grow. When we nurture doubt over faith, self-reliance over God and worry over trust, these attitudes begin to permeate our entire being. Before we know it doubt, self-focus and worry have become a way of life, a habit and a knee-jerk reaction. We forget to pray. We feel weighed down with fear or desolation.
Like the Pharisees, we may profess trust in God, but we may not be living it. This creates inner turmoil, unrest, stress and dismay.
Take a moment today, in prayer, and ask Jesus to reveal to you where you tend to lean into doubt rather than faith. What worry do you have that you can take to Him today? What do you fear the most in your life, and how can you let Jesus transform your leaven into His leaven?
Fear, worry, anxiety—all these emotions present us with blessed opportunities. They show us where we have cracks we need to fix, areas in our lives where we have yet to invite God to enter. And they reveal to us the places where God is fortifying us, strengthening us as He enters and envelopes us with His blessed presence.
If we let Him.
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