Liturgical Colour : Green
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture, we have all been reminded of the great love of God for each and every one of us, and yet at the same time we are also warned of the dangers of our human desires and wants, our personal ambitions, ego and pride, which can lead us down the slippery path of sin that will make it difficult for us to resist the temptations to sin against God.
In our first reading today, St. James mentioned in his Epistle to the faithful, how God is ever good and ever loving, and if we put our trust and faith in Him, we will never be disappointed. And we should not say that temptations come from God, as indeed, St. James explained how temptations come from within us, through our desires and pride, ego and ambitions that twisted our thoughts, our minds and our hearts. And all those temptations and desires lead us to sin, and sin eventually lead us to damnation.
And this is what the Lord actually mentioned in our Gospel passage today, as He told the people who heard Him to be careful of the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ and the ‘yeast of Herod’ and to keep their eyes open and be vigilant, that they themselves would not fall into sin and into damnation. What do these yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? This is where we need to look deeper into the significance of why Christ brought these two up in His teaching.
First of all, the Pharisees were the powerful group of intellectuals and men of high social standing, for their ardent and often zealous and rigid adherence to the laws and customs of the Law according to Moses. The Pharisees were the enforcers and guardians of the tradition and customs of the Law, and they took great pride in having such a position and honour among the people. The Pharisees saw themselves as the guardians of the traditions and the people, and as such they zealously guarded their positions and ways.
And this is what the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ is all about. It speaks of the pride and ambition, the ego and desire in the hearts and minds of the Pharisees to maintain their position and privileges at all costs, even in opposing the Lord and Saviour Who has come into this world bearing the truth and salvation of God. They would rather resist Him and oppose Him and His works, rather than to lose their authority, power, control and influence among the people.
This is how pride and ego, ambition and desire can be so dangerous, as indeed they can lead us to temptations, and being tempted to maintain our ego and pride, we will end up making actions that are not just contrary to our faith, but are even scandalous and directly opposite of what God has taught us to do. And this is what the Lord meant by the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ that we, the people of God, must be careful and vigilant against.
How about the ‘yeast of Herod’ then? Herod was the king of Galilee at the time, and he was infamous for his adulterous relationship with Herodias, his own brother’s wife, whom he married when she was still legally married to Herod’s brother, Philip, who was then also still alive. Herod was overcome by his desire and greed, and sinned by his desires, which resulted in his adultery. And not only that, when he was hosting a party, Herod succumbed to this same desire even towards his own stepdaughter.
When the daughter of his brother and Herodias danced in the party before Herod and his guests, Herod was again overcome by desire and made vows and promises that eventually led him to cause the death of St. John the Baptist whom he had arrested earlier on. Herodias wanted him dead, and made use of the opportunity through her daughter to make the request to Herod, a request that he could not reject because of the vows he had just made earlier on.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, here we can clearly see how this ‘yeast of Herod’ and the earlier mentioned ‘yeast of the Pharisees’ are the same ‘yeasts’ that we also have in us, the yeast of sin, of pride, ego, ambition, greed and desire. We are always struggling with them and unless we make the effort to resist the temptations they caused us, we will likely fall into the slippery trap of sin, and become trapped further and deeper into the darkness, finally into damnation.
Therefore, all of us are reminded today to keep ourselves pure and worthy of God, resisting the temptations to sin and distancing ourselves from things that can lead us to immorality and actions that are against God’s will and ways. Let us all have the resolve to live our lives from now on with ever greater zeal and faith, focusing ourselves on living our lives with greater commitment to God in all the things we say and do, in our every actions and deeds.
May the Lord continue to guide us and bless us in everything we do, and may He strengthen all of us that we may be ever stronger in faith and be more capable of resisting the temptations in life, the ‘yeasts of Herod and the Pharisees’ as we have talked about earlier. May God be with us always, now and forevermore. Amen.