Prayer and Reflection by Bishop Sylvester David OMI

Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 16 October 2020, during this time of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.

Reflection for Friday 16 October 2020. Luke 12:1-7.

In this reflection I want to look only at one verse – and even there only at two words. It is a biblical catechesis of sorts which hopefully can help our understanding of what Jesus teaches us.

The previous chapter describes the hostility which the Scribes and Pharisees showed towards Jesus. It ended with them provoking him and waiting to catch him out on something he might say. Undeterred by this hostility Jesus continued to speak his truth. Today’s passage starts with him warning his disciples to “guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). In order to understand clearly what Jesus is saying we need to explore two words viz. “yeast” and “hypocrisy”. The word for yeast was a common term in the time of Jesus simply because, unlike in our time when we rely on supermarkets and spaza shops for bread, almost every home made bread. Yeast was thus an important facet in their daily lives. This was not like our store bought yeast but was a piece of old sour dough which was left to ferment and was used in a new batch as a rising agent. The fermenting process involved a distinct element of corruption. This is what the disciples are cautioned against. A small amount of fermented yeast could influence the entire loaf. 

This was the danger associated with the Pharisees. Perhaps a modern example would be when one buys a pocket of potatoes and one potato in the middle of the sack is rotten. What happens? All the potatoes around it become spoilt and it starts to smell bad. This is how corruption can influence a community. According to Jesus, the corruption of the Pharisees was seen in their hypocrisy. The word hypocrisy literally means “to reply” and came from the Greek theatre. In the early days values and morals were passed on through educational plays held in public squares. The actors were so good that when looking at their masks, one could not tell whether they were male or female, old or young, child or adult. Without un-masking them one could not know. This word is used only once in the Hebrew scriptures where it connotes ungodliness (Isaiah 32:6). The Pharisees were considered to be deceptive because they rendered false explanations of the Torah, i.e. the first five books of the Bible. They were ungodly.

It is good to know all this but what does it means for us living in the middle of a pandemic? It is true that every crisis, apart from the danger, also presents us with an opportunity. The opportunity during Covid-19 is that we could become more reflective. In fact there is no escape. I am forced to face myself. Reflection is not always a pleasant experience. Sometimes it can cause us great un-ease as some aspects of our lives can disappoint us. 

How has corruption influenced me? Do I make money out of the misfortune of others – perhaps by paying unjust wages? What is my deepest yearning for? Is it for the things of God and the values of God or do I seek self glorification? When speaking of hypocrisy – one immediately thinks of politicians who make false promises. But are they the only ones? What are my masks and why do I wear them? In our passage for today Jesus continues to say that the time will come when we will all be unmasked. How nice if there were no surprises when the unmasking happens.

Let us pray: Lord we recall that when your Son saw Nathaniel, he referred to him as a person in whom there was no deceit. Send us your Spirit of Truth so that we too can be counted among the pure in heart. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen. [Blessing].

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