1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Your boasting about this [a sinful situation in the Corinthian church] is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast.” Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread of sincerity and truth.
I grew up watching the magic of yeast: the dense lump of dough growing to double its size, soft and pliable. The fragrance of baking bread in our home wafted from the bathroom, because that’s where we had a cast iron stove with an oven. We had the best-smelling bathroom in the world. If our family wanted bread, we had to bake it. Same with cookies, cakes, etc. Noodles too, though they weren’t baked. For a time, my little brother’s favorite joke was, “Mom makes our cookies because she’s too lazy to go to the store.” (The nearest store was hours away.)
Our kitchen stove was made of concrete blocks with space for a fire and a griddle on top. But at some point, Dad lugged to our mountain village this stove with an oven. Its firebox required “little wood”—half the size of the wood used in the kitchen stove and the fireplace. My big brother chopped the wood in half and even the youngest toddlers helped carry “little wood” to the bathroom, while older children lugged “big wood” to the kitchen and living room.
One day a week, we made a fire in the bathroom stove. That day was bath day, baking day and ironing day, with irons heated on the stove. We didn’t have a shower; just a bathtub. I still associate taking a bath with the aroma of baking bread, enough for a week for our large family. A warm memory.
One time when we expected guests from the United States in our little home in our small village at the end of the long, twisty, bumpy road, Mom realized her yeast was long expired. But she had in her mind the kind of bread she wanted to make for our guests. She decided to put in twice—no, three times—the amount of yeast the recipe called for. The result was a disaster that our guests never knew about: the bread didn’t rise, but it was permeated with such a strong taste of yeast it was barely edible. In our house, we didn’t waste anything though. After our guests left, we all ate that awful bread until it too was gone. I don’t remember who the guests were, but I remember the terrible taste of the bread!
So, was Jesus against eating leavened bread? No, because in the Gospels he sometimes refers to the Kingdom of God as yeast (Mt 13:33, Lk 13:21). Yeast was used as an idiom to mean a change agent that is subtle and gradual, yet thorough. Put in a little, and it will spread to affect the whole. The results depend on whether the change agent is good or bad.
Paul applies the idiom to sin, so being without it is a good thing. He makes the connection to Passover bread. Matzah was called for at the Passover because there wasn’t time to wait for bread to rise (read about the first Passover in Exodus 12). He calls Jesus the Passover Lamb, sacrificed in place of the sons of Israel. When the Angel of Death saw the blood of the lamb smeared on a door, he “passed over” that home. His blood on the cross does the same for us.
In light of Christ’s sacrifice, can we indulge in sin, harming ourselves and others? No. That’s like sacrificing Jesus all over again. Purify us, Lord. Multiply in us sincere love and truth.