“Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” What’s up with that? Most of the times yeast is mentioned in the Bible, it’s a good thing. It only takes a little bit of yeast for it to do its job. It makes bread rise. Yeast extract is what makes Marmite and Vegemite. (Okay, so maybe the jury’s out on Marmite and Vegemite…but I like them.)
The problem, though, is when yeast is overabundant. I was thinking about that in terms of one of my surgical pathology cases a little while back–a biopsy from a non-healing mouth ulcer. Of course, the head and neck surgeon was worried it was an oral cancer. As it turned out, it was only an ulcer with inflammation, but it was stuffed with Candida.
You might recognize that name–it’s the most common organism that causes what we colloquially call a yeast infection.
Now, Candida is easy enough to treat–just about any halfway decent antifungal drug will do it–but the fact that the yeast infection is even there in the first place is problematic. Normally, when we are healthy, our normal bacterial flora that populates our skin, our gut, and our various and sundry body cavities keeps most fungi from growing in us or on us. Yet when we become infected with yeast–and especially if we repeatedly become infected with yeast–it raises a more worrisome question. It calls to question whether our immune system is working properly, and whether there is an underlying chronic immunosuppressive disease–anything from diabetes to HIV–that is present in that patient, but as of yet undiagnosed. Multiple yeast infections are a red flag to your doctor that more exploration of the underlying cause is in order.
In our reading today, it calls to question the dangers of overabundance, and all the places where something that is normally good, becomes problematic, because the overabundance of that spiritual “yeast” chokes off all of the good “normal flora” of our life and relationship to God and each other. Ambition is great–but too much ambition becomes greed. Social media is great–but too much social media can cut us off from relationships right in front of us. The giving of our time, talents, and treasure is great–but giving to the place where we are hollow, exhausted, and empty ignores God’s good creation in ourselves, and leads to the sin of self-diminishment or self-negation at the expense of others.
Mark points out in our reading today that perspective is everything. When we get a little too into the “but what have you done for me lately, God?” mindset, we are in danger of an overgrowth of yeast, and it’s helpful to remember the times when the yeast was more than enough. It asks us to look for an underlying disorder.
When is a time you have experienced a “yeast infection” in your soul that, upon further reflection, revealed a more chronic problem that needed to be addressed in your life?