a leaven peculiar to itself: that of the Pharisees being, as Christ was wont to declare, hypocrisy;[10.10] that of the Sadducees, an engrossing interest in merely material and temporal concerns, assuming in some a political form, as in the case of the partisans of the Herod family, called in the Gospels Herodians, in others wearing the guise of a philosophy which denied the existence of spirit and the reality of the future life, and made that denial an excuse for exclusive devotion to the interests of time. But here, as elsewhere, extremes met. Phariseeism, Sadduceeism, Herodianism, though distinguished by minor differences, were radically one. The religionists, the philosophers, the politicians, were all members of one great party, which was inveterately hostile to the divine kingdom. All alike were worldly-minded (of the Pharisees it is expressly remarked that they were covetous[10.11); all were opposed to Christ for fundamentally the same reason, viz. because He was not of this world; all united fraternally at this time in the attempt to vex Him by unbelieving, unreasonable demands;[10.12] and they all had a hand in His death at the last. It was thus made apparent, once for all, that a Christian is not one who merely differs superficially either from Pharisees or from Sadducees separately, but one who differs radically from both. A weighty truth, not yet well understood; for it is fancied by many that right believing and right living consist in going to the opposite extreme from any tendency whose evil influence is apparent. To avoid pharisaic strictness and superstition, grown odious, men run into sadducaic scepticism and license; or, frightened by the excesses of infidelity and secularity, they seek salvation in ritualism, infallible churches, and the revival of medieval monkery. Thus the two tendencies continue ever propagating each other on the principle of action and reaction; one generation or school going all lengths in one direction, and another making a point of being as unlike its predecessor or its neighbor as possible, and both being equally far from the truth.
What the common leaven of Phariseeism and Sadduceeism was, Jesus did not deem it necessary to state. He had already indicated its nature with sufficient plainness in His severe reply to the sign-seekers. The radical vice of both sects was just ungodliness: blindness, and deadness of heart to the Divine. They did not know the true and the good when they saw it; and when they knew it, they did not love it. All around them were the evidences that the King and the kingdom of grace were among them; yet here were they asking for arbitrary outward signs, "external evidences" in the worst sense, that He who spake as never man spake, and worked wonders of mercy such as had never before been witnessed, was no impostor, but a man wise and good, a prophet, and the Son of God. Verily the natural man, religious or irreligious, is blind and dead! What these seekers after a sign needed was not a new sign, but a new heart; not mere evidence, but a spirit willing to obey the truth.
The spirit of unbelief which ruled in Jewish society Jesus described as a leaven, with special reference to its diffusiveness; and most fitly, for it passes from sire to son, from rich to poor, from learned to unlearned, till a whole generation has been vitiated by its malign influence. Such was the state of things in Israel as it came under His eye. Spiritual blindness and deadness, with the outward symptom of the inward malady, — a constant craving for evidence, — met him on every side. The common people, the leaders of society, the religious, the sceptics, the courtiers, and the rustics, were all blind, and yet apparently all most anxious to see; ever renewing the demand, "What sign showest Thou, that we may see and believe Thee? What dost Thou work?"
Vexed an hour ago by the sinister movements of foes, Jesus next found new matter for annoyance in the stupidity of friends. The disciples utterly, even ludicrously, misunderstood the warning word addressed to them. In conversation by themselves, while their Master walked apart, they discussed the question, what the strange words, so abruptly and earnestly spoken, might mean; and they came to the sapient conclusion that they were intended to caution them against buying bread from parties belonging to either of the offensive sects. It was an absurd mistake, and yet, all things considered, it was not so very unnatural: for, in the first place, as already remarked, Jesus had introduced the subject very abruptly; and secondly, some time had elapsed since the meeting with the seekers of a sign, during which no allusion seems to have been made to that matter. How were they to know that during all that time their Master's thoughts had been occupied with what took place on the western shore of the lake? In any case, such a supposition was not likely to occur to their mind; for the demand for a sign had, doubtless, not appeared to them an event of much consequence, and it was probably forgotten as soon as their backs were turned upon the men who made it. And then, finally, it so happened that, just before Jesus began to speak, they remembered that in the hurry of a sudden departure they had forgotten to provide themselves with a stock of provisions for the journey. That was what they were thinking about when He began to say, "Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." The momentous circumstance that they had with them but one loaf was causing them so much concern, that when they heard the caution against a particular kind of leaven, they jumped at once to the conclusion, "It is because we have no bread."
Yet the misunderstanding of the disciples, though simple and natural in its origin, was blameworthy. They could not have fallen into the mistake had the interest they took in spiritual and temporal things respectively been proportional to their relative importance. They had treated the incident on the other side of
the lake too lightly, and they had treated their neglect to provide bread too gravely. They should have taken more to heart the ominous demand for a sign, and the solemn words spoken by their Master in reference thereto; and they should not have been troubled about the want of loaves in the company of Him who had twice miraculously fed the hungry multitude in the desert. Their thoughtlessness in one direction, and their over-thoughtfulness in another, showed that food and raiment occupied a larger place in their minds than the