There are two sayings that we have in English that are appropriate for our meditation today. One is that someone is “full of hot air.” The other is that someone is “puffed up with pride.” I speak of these today because in the gospel for today’s Mass, Our Lord warns us of “the leaven—that is, the hypocrisy—of the Pharisees.” The Pharisees were a group of the Jewish people of that time, both a religious and a political group who advocated the exact observance of the law of Moses. They knew all 600+ rules and regulations by which the devout and observant Jew was expected to live, and they obeyed them all. But the bad thing was that they prided themselves on their punctiliousness and held in contempt those who were less observant. Now, why does Our Lord call their pride and arrogance “leaven”? Because leaven (yeast or baking powder), even a small amount, can cause a batch of bread dough to rise and when baked, to become light and appetizing. But even then, everyone knew that leavened bread was good because it had become “puffed up” with the air released by the yeast, and that when freshly baked, it was “full of hot air.” That’s the reason why during the Passover, the Jews eat only unleavened bread—the bread of total sincerity which is not “puffed up” or “full of hot air.”
We mustn’t push that figure of speech too far; we all love good, leavened bread. Wouldn’t it be awful if the only baked goods we could eat would be crackers and matzoh and pita bread? No croissants; no rolls or buns, no good poor boy bread that friends of mine send me from New Orleans since I can’t get it here in east Texas? The puffed up condition of our good bread, and the fact that it’s full of hot air certainly makes it more desirable, even if it is the AIR in the bread that makes it good.
God has made us to be who and what we are. He wants us to accept ourselves as we are. We have the right, and even the duty, to perfect ourselves by education, breeding, and virtue, but we are not to put on airs, to try to seem to be what we are not, not impress others with our own excellence and perfection. That’s hypocrisy; that’s the hot air and the puffed-up attitude that Our Lord condemns and warns us against. The other day, I laughed at a comic strip in the newspaper in which a middle-aged man, trying so hard to impress an attractive young woman with his fine physique that, sucking in his abdomen, he caused his pants to fall off! The leaven of the Pharisees! False pride; false pretenses. Hypocrisy.
Our Lord says to us: be yourself. If you wish to impress others, do so with honest virtue, with kindness, modesty, friendliness. Don’t be puffed up with yourself; don’t be full of hot air. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.