It is fairly common in certain circles to hear a great deal of speculation on the mark of the Beast. Being a person who is particularly disinclined to speculate on such matters, I try to leave such subjects well alone, as they do not intersect with the large majority of my concerns. Yesterday, though, while listening to a sermonette and offertory message by one of the elders in our congregation, I heard a mark that I had not heard phrased in that way before, namely, the mark of the yeast. Given the striking nature of this particular concept, and the fact that it is perfectly suited to the Days of Unleavened Bread, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss in both a humorous and serious matter about this particular mark in the knowledge that something is far easier to discuss when one has a conceptual framework to do it, and that the same concept can have several layers of meaning and significance that are not always easy to uncover.
When one is looking at breaded items, the mark of the yeast is fairly straightforward, namely anything that shows the escape of carbon dioxide. There are several places where this mark comes from–it can come from chemical leaving like baking powder or baking soda, it can come from yeast that is added to dough to make it rise, or it can come from the impact of yeast in the air that comes through time or the use of mechanical processes that speed the action of yeast in the air. When people spend all their time looking for ingredients, and not enough time looking for air bubbles that show the effect of air leaving bread, we get situations where people think that they have gotten rid of all of the leavening when they have not. Truth be told, a lot of what people think to be unleavened bread is in fact not. I was looking up Chinese cookie recipes and saw that without any kind of chemical leavening or active yeast ingredients that the leavening was done through whisking, and where one can see the bubbles of carbon dioxide that are the product of the leavening reaction, one can know that even if it is not on the ingredient list that it has been in operation. The mark of the yeast is far more subtle, when on the physical level, than we may be aware of.
The subtlety of the mark of the yeast even in bread products, which I must admit I find very tasty, is a reminder that the mark of the yeast is subtle in our lives as well. An example of our lives is worth noting. The Bible is particularly harsh on gossip , but casting shade is a very common habit that most of us (myself included) are guilty about from time to time. An album was released this weekend that has caused quite a stir. A reference on the album to an adulterous affair between the singer’s husband and another woman has led a crowd of vicariously scorned cyberbullies to start trolling with lemonades and bees, driving the person who “outed” herself offline, leading to the woman’s children’s accounts being harassed, and leading also to hostility and abuse being given to an innocent TV cooking personality who merely happens to have a similar name to “Becky with the good hair.” Watching all of the abuse online is quite painful, but at the same time funny, and even more so a reminder of the sort of world we live in today where social media shaming is so common that not only are those who are being targeted abused into silence, but anyone who happens to be able to be confused with the targets suffers abuse as well, even if all they are doing is trying to advertise their leavened sandwiches. The mark of the yeast is strong in this situation–not only do we have a man who is somehow given a pass for adultery but blame is being placed on the other woman, or someone who can be confused for the other woman, but we have the use of social media as a way of bullying others and shaming them for their behavior. Let us remember the case of the woman caught in adultery–it takes two to horizontal tango–one cannot punish one guilty party alone, nor is it the place of individuals on social media to serve as agents of vigilante justice even if they fancy themselves worker bees in the beehive.
Even in the Bible we find the mark of the yeast prominently displayed. At times this mark can be seen somewhat suddenly, while at other times it takes a long time for matters to build up. Let us take the case of Abraham and Hagar. I will summarize the biblical story, but those who want to read the full story can look at Genesis 16, 17, and 21. Abraham, having been promised a divine heir, through the advise of his barren wife takes an Egyptian servant as a concubine and she becomes pregnant with a child and starts developing airs, which causes some drama in the household and leads Hagar to be cast out, destitute. She is eventually found by God and told to go back and submit herself to Sarah’s hand. Some time later, when Abraham is circumcised, Ishmael is as well. What leads to a final breakdown within the family is the fact that Ishmael makes fun of Isaac when Isaac is weaned, leading the jealous mamma bear Sarah to demand, and receive, the immediate and final expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham’s household, even though Ishmael later returns to help bury Abraham with his younger half-brother after Abraham’s death. The mark of the yeast in this particular situation is very dramatic–namely the existence of the Arab peoples and their hostility with the children of Israel. The initial family drama pales in significance to the thousands of years of trouble that has resulted from that act of impatience with the workings of divine providence, a reminder to all of us of the long-term consequences of doing the wrong thing.
Therefore, although the expression used by the elder is a catchy one, and certainly very lighthearted and entertaining, we ought to take the mark of the yeast seriously. Whether we are looking at something that purports to be unleavened bread to see the telltale air bubbles that show that leavening action has been at work, or whether we are looking at the effects of sin in the lives of those respected and honored by our celebrity-driven culture, or whether we are examining the effects of sin in the lives of biblical heroes of faith, or even within our own lives, let us remember that even if we may not be alert to it, the mark of the yeast is present in the corruption caused by sin, as well as in the chemical processes of leavening, and the skillful eye will see that the mark of the yeast is far more prevalent than we may first see, and that we may easily find it within ourselves. Let us not be content to point out the mark in other people where we have not examined ourselves sufficiently closely, for when others see the mark in our own lives, they will likely be quick to point it out.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: