A Question of Leaven

The image to the right may bring mixed reactions from people of faith. Some might find it amusing, some might find it offensive, and others might find it insipid. Pilsbury might find it a violation of their trademark rights. I found it interesting.

Without knowing its origin, one might have trouble interpreting it. For example, one user attempted to show it as a celebration or acknowledgment of Easter and Passover, two religious traditions, or beliefs.

Others made only tongue in cheek references to Easter, but none that I found were horribly offensive. Of course, some people can be offended by almost anything, especially something that has fun with a spiritual or biblical belief.

In my mind, the intent is of little concern. Intentionally or not, this cartoon’s creator and subsequent play on words humorously point out a major difference between Christianity and Judaism. At least the difference between the two faiths for the last 2,000 years or so. Of course, as with any analogy or simile, the danger of oversimplifying or skewing the point is possible.

For example, this cartoon is playing with the concept of leavened and unleavened bread to compare the Christian and Jewish beliefs in Jesus. One belief is Jesus was the Messiah, who died and was resurrected. The other is the Messiah is yet to come, and the claim Jesus was resurrected is folklore bordering on blasphemy.

Leaven has nothing, or at least very little, to do with the resurrection of Jesus. “He is risen” does not mean He, like a lump of dough, grew larger because of yeast or some other substance. So, comparing the resurrection of the Christ with Passover is a poorly worded way of saying Jesus was a Rabbi, possibly a prophet, but not the Messiah.

Part of the problem may be in translation, as well as tradition. Yes, the Old Testament prohibits the eating of leavened bread in many verses. Still, the reasons may seem unclear or confusing at times.

The New Testament repeats the prohibition in a few passages. Some believe mentioning leaven is a way of remembering lessons or commands from the past. Yet others believe the lesson of leaven in the New Testament is related to the purity of Jesus.

This is based on the primary argument about the meaning of leavening agents in biblical terms. Leaven, or yeast for simplicity, is invasive, infecting if you will, the entirety of the dough. In doing so, it releases carbon dioxide, which essentially makes the dough swell or blow up as if it were a balloon. Of course, the best analogy might be it creates millions of tiny balloons in the dough, causing it to grow larger.

The most common understanding of why such ingredients should be avoided is that it spreads out, infecting the dough. In this sense, it is thought to represent sin, which will permeate one’s life or the greater society. Today, we often speak of sin or the manifestations of evil as a cancer or virus spreading throughout someone’s body or a world. The idea is the same, however one chooses to illustrate it.

However, I will argue that whoever first crafted the cartoonish comparison above hit upon another meaning that should be considered. Perhaps, leaven is not all bad. Instead, how it is used matters. After all, most of us would agree sourdough or whole wheat bread is better for making sandwiches than a piece of matzah. Matzah and other flatbreads or crackers are great for some things. They just fall short if you want a nice juicy sandwich.

Some believe the prohibition concerning leaven in the Old Testament was another sign pointing to Jesus, as Jesus was without sin and was the Bread of Life. Also, the Last Supper was celebrated with unleavened bread, which is considered Jesus’s body. The idea that yeast or other leavens are bad in a symbolic sense seems logical.

Yet, some scholars point out Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to leaven in the New Testament, which causes disagreement over the question of goodness vs. evil. At least goodness and evil when it comes to leavening agents. That brings me to the point I think the cartoonist likely missed.

From a spiritual standpoint, the act of leavening is not as much about rising or puffing up as it is the invasive nature of leaven. A small bit of yeast, a leavening agent, can cause a much larger amount of flour to rise. One source states one teaspoon of yeast is enough to make four cups (144 teaspoons) of flour rise. That is an excellent ratio of cause to effect it would seem.

What if we are the equivalent of spiritual leaven. All believers are charged with carrying the good news to the world. We are supposed to be the one infecting others with our faith. We may not be as effective as yeast in bread dough, but we are still charged with sharing our relationship with Jesus. Which brings me back to the cartoon.

Judaism does not spread the good news, in the sense of evangelism. Some within the Old Testament faith say they did reach out centuries ago but stopped during the Roman persecution of Christians and Jews. Whatever the reality, the cartoon illustrates the difference beautifully. One system is trying to infect the rest of humanity with the love of Christ, the other is stuck in the traditions of the past.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2020

About S. Eric Jackson

See "About."
This entry was posted in Faith, Religion, Spirituality, Testimony and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply