“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6b)
I always appreciate the concreteness of the illustrations Jesus gives us about the kingdom of heaven. On Sunday, we reflected Matthew 13:33 and how the kingdom of God is like yeast hidden in three measures of flour. Today, Paul uses leaven or yeast to describe how badly immorality affects the community of saints in the church. I think this is important for our Western and post-modern sensibilities to hear. We all know how scandal can lead to destructive gossip and unrest in the church, and it becomes important how the leaders in the church handle such matters. When these things happen, members can fall away as they become spiritually discouraged because of this public hypocrisy. We must soberly recognise this risk.
Here, Paul is saying that immoral behaviour has such dire consequences on the spiritual unity of the body that the whole cannot live. He says it is so bad that the dough has no hope of ever being good again, so he recommends it be cleansed. I find this interesting because when it comes to bread-baking, dead yeast, even if mixed in dough, cannot be salvaged. It is better to get rid of the dough and start again.
Paul proposes that the church be cleansed from within. He recommends that the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth is the only fitting way to celebrate the final Passover feast. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for us is the only thing that truly cleanses us and the world from sin. So when public sin enters the church — which it will — we in the church are wise to consider God’s grace that was given to us through Christ’s sacrifice and to sincerely trust in it. We can ask Jesus in prayer and through his sacrament to cleanse the body of our community so that it can be healthy again. As Christians, we are called to live our lives as holy and sanctified members of Christ’s body, always remembering that we, too, have been cleansed and taking care not to hinder the light of God’s grace as revealed in our behaviour that is always on display in the church and world.
Lord, may we be examples of Your love and mercy to the world. Forgive us when we fail, and grant us the peace of Your promises. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.