Homemade self-righteousness

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We are becoming, or have become (depending on your perspective) those people. In an effort to be good stewards or resourceful, we make a lot of our own stuff. We’re not quite at the stage of making our own leather belts or coonskin hats, but if this trend continues, don’t be surprised if I open up a shop on Etsy. For now, our making of stuff has been confined to the kitchen. We make our own kombucha and kefir. Mouthwash, toothpaste (or in our case, tooth clay or tooth powder) and deodorant is produced there as well. The beautiful bride has made a myriad of all natural, homemade salves and tinctures to address a multitude of maladies. So, when she decided a couple of weeks ago to begin making sourdough bread, it just seemed natural (ha, I’m punny!)

Truthfully, I understand very little about what it takes to make sourdough bread. All I know is that there is a glob of dough that everyday must be “fed” and at some point, via unseen actions, it becomes a tasty treat.

This process in the kitchen was going on as I was preparing for the privilege of preaching from the Gospel of Mark. Though sourdough remains a mystery to me, I think I grasp ordinary breadmaking – take some dough, add some yeast, beat the daylights out of it, bake it and whammo, bread. Our church family has been going through this account of Jesus’ life and ministry, and this past Sunday I was preaching from Mark 8, which includes this interchange between Jesus and His disciples, and because making bread was on my mind and  in my kitchen, this portion became very vivid to me:

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? – Mark 8:14-17 (ESV)

I can imagine being with the disciples, and I can imagine blundering as badly as the disciples did. Prior to this, Jesus has fed the 4000, with 7 baskets of food left over. They get back in the boat and realize there is just one loaf with them. I wonder if the baskets were placed right next to the boat, someone thinking someone else is going to get load them up, and once offshore one of them looks and says , “Huh. I thought we were taking that with us.” Kind of the way some families pack for a trip. Jesus seizes upon this realization, invokes a stern warning, and the disciples response was “That’s great. Thanks for sharing. Do you realize we’re out on a cruise again and have no food!?!” Completely missed the point, both about the leaven and about the One who could provide.

We would be wise to heed Jesus’ words, “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” If not every, nearly every time leaven is used in Scripture, it is an illustration for evil. It illustrates that a little bit of something can be infused in the whole of something else and change its nature. A little bit of yeast is all that is needed to leaven the whole lump. So what is the leaven of the Pharisees? Time and time again, it is their self-righteousness. Jesus’ warning to the disciples and to us is that self righteousness will be their undoing. Just a little self-righteousness will do.

Some would say that the problem is legalism. For the Pharisees, it definitely was. For us, I’m not so convinced that is what we wrestle with. Legalism says that by keeping the law, I can earn God’s favor, or I am declared justified by my rule following. I think most, even if they won’t say it out loud, know that they do not keep all the rules perfectly. Legalism isn’t our primary problem, self-righteousness is (though the two are interrelated). Self-righteousness says I’m good enough as it is, or, I’m better than the guy next to me. Self-righteousness causes us to look down our noses at others. Self-righteousness emits sinful judgment against another. Self-righteousness puts us up a cloud of delusion and we find ourselves convinced that we need no help, or that we can power our way through whatever trial we are facing under our own strength. Self-righteousness has its focus on self, and declares righteousness as defined by human standards. The self-righteous person may not pray, or when he does, they are vindictive, condescending prayers. The self-righteous person may not read her Bible, or when she does, she looks for the passages she can use to “help” or “instruct” someone not doing as well as she views herself doing. The self-righteous person will bellyache over the ills caused by the unconverted, but exert precisely zero energy in presenting the glorious gospel of Christ. The self-righteous person may serve another through action, but in reality is serving his already overblown and inaccurate view of himself.  “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.”

One thing I’ve picked up on in my very limited understanding of fashioning this food is that once you have added yeast, you can’t take it out. Once it has been worked in, it is there for good. The nature of the dough has been changed, and there is no undoing it. The only way to get rid of it is to throw it out. Self-righteousness works the same way – once it is worked in, it changes our nature. So what to do?

assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:21-24 (ESV)

Put off the old, and put on the new. The only acceptable righteousness is the one secured for us by Christ. There is no room for self-righteousness.


One thought on “Homemade self-righteousness

  1. Makes me think about dinner at Simon’s house, when the woman burst in and embraced Jesus. What was a long lesson for me is that I am the person who owed the great fortune, not the “Horrible sinners” on the other side of the tracks. My smugness, self-righteousness and my pride ran up a far worse debt than I ever imagined. Thanks.

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