Tuesday, 2/14/17 – Signs of the Times

When we take a trip, we are especially aware of road signs. We know that if we miss a turn we may find ourselves heading in the wrong direction. This can become a real challenge when we near a big city and see what seems like hundreds of signs staring us in the face.

Jesus rebuked the people of his age because they weren’t paying attention to the “road signs” that God was setting up for them. It seemed they didn’t care whether or not they reached their destination. Probably they weren’t even sure of what their life’s destination was. He told them that they were skilled at reading the “weather signs” in the sky. Examining the color of the sky, they could predict rain, snow, storms, and so on. For some reason, however, they didn’t bother studying the more important signs that God was giving them.

Even the disciples of Jesus, those who listened to him every day, did not know how to the read God’s “road signs.” We see this in the discussion reported by St. Mark today (Mark 8:14-21).

“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, ‘Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread.”

Let’s imagine the scene. They were riding in the boat and were hungry. Only one had the foresight to bring a loaf of bread, so they started arguing among themselves about how to share the loaf. Jesus jumped in with a warning. They were being driven by the same spirit that gripped the Pharisees and Herod—selfishness, greed, seeking to satisfy their own appetites. “Leaven” was Jesus’s way of saying “spirit.” They didn’t catch on to what Jesus was saying. They thought he was getting on their case for not bringing lunch along.

Knowing they missed the point Jesus started asking them questions:

“Do you not yet understand or comprehend?”

“Are your hearts hardened?”

“Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?”

“And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”

These men were blind, hardened, and spiritually dull.

They remembered that there were twelve wicker baskets of fragments left, and, on another similar occasion, there were seven. Didn’t they catch on? If God was concerned just about feeding people, there wouldn’t have been any leftovers. The abundance of bread that filled “twelve” and “seven” baskets was an indication that the time of fulfillment had come. Twelve and seven were perfect numbers—symbols of fulfillment. Didn’t they catch on to what God was trying to tell them—that the great day of his kingdom on earth had come? And yet they were squabbling over food!

If we were Jesus’ disciples, do you think we would have caught on to the signs of the times? Would we have been focused on the age of fulfillment that Jesus was ushering in, or would we have been focused on having our own needs met? Would Jesus have cited us as spiritually dull, hard of heart, and deaf to God’s Word?

We live in the age of the “kingdom.” God is giving us signs of fulfillment—the twelve wicker baskets—the abundance of bread. Are we too busy figuring out what we’ll have for supper to recognize what he’s trying to tell us? How much of our hearts have been captured by the leaven of the Pharisees—pride, self-righteousness, self-centeredness, and the leaven of Herod—greed, gluttony, and personal power?

What is Jesus telling us disciples of today as we argue over insignificant things?

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the Lord, over vast waters” (Ps 29:3).

About the Author

Author Bob Garvey lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a master’s degree in religious education and has been an active leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal for forty years. After retiring as a high school teacher, he began to write daily commentaries on the Church’s liturgical readings and other topics relevant to Catholic spirituality. He is married to Linda, has three daughters and four grandchildren.

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  1. Thanks for such insight into the reading of today: the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.
    I understand it better now. We are meant to focus on more important spiritual aspect of life than merely fighting over every little material things.
    May God continue to expand you and your team’s coast in His vineyard. Amen.
    Thanks to you all!

  2. I accept that your interpretation is right, but I continue to struggle with the blurriness of this scriptural lesson, and many others. The commandments are clear, the beatitudes are clear, but so many parables are paralyzing lý unclear.

  3. Hey Bob,

    So I thought I knew what “leaven” symbolized. After I read your reflection I came away with a new understanding of the word. Then I decided to look up what other religious minds had to say on the subject, and there is a wide variety of meaning, depending on how the Gospel reading touches your heart. Suffice to say, the way Jesus uses it in today’s reading, it represents evil. What kind of evil? That depends on you.

    Your last question is interesting. The only reason I say that is it depends on what you mean as “insignificant”. What may be insignificant to you may not be to someone else.

    Oh, 12 questions are presented in your reflection today. Is that “significant”?


  4. Thank you Bob. This is a spiritual weakness I have, and I’m slowly coming to realize this. I put too much stock in having my physical and mental needs met. We are not supposed to survive on bread alone. “Give us this day our daily Bread…” does not mean physical bread, it means spiritual bread. I pray I can overcome such a challenge in this culture glorifies love of self, not love of God.

  5. Thanks for the insight. I have also read that the 12 baskets of bread left over signified the 12 Tribes of Israel. The first people to receive God’s word. The 7 baskets that were left over after the second dividing of the loaves signifies the Gentiles since there were 7 Gentile nations at the time of the 12 tribes in the Promised Land. HEnce the numbers 12 and 7 reveal the fullness of GOd’s word for all people.
    It is true that we see many different meanings when parables are used. It seems that they can speak to each of us with an individual message. And maybe that is why Jesus used parables instead of spelling things out plainly.
    Thanks again for a great reflection.

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