Still Life with Figs and Bread,
Painting by Luis Meléndez (1716-1780),
Painted circa 1770,
Oil on canvas
© National Gallery of Art, Washington

Still Life with Figs and Bread,
Painting by Luis Meléndez (1716-1780),
Painted circa 1770,
Oil on canvas
© National Gallery of Art, Washington

Gospel of 13 February 2024

Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod

Mark 8:14-21

The disciples had forgotten to take any food and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Then he gave them this warning, ‘Keep your eyes open; be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ And they said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ And Jesus knew it, and he said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you not yet understand? Have you no perception? Are your minds closed? Have you eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear? Or do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of scraps did you collect?’ They answered, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of scraps did you collect?’ And they answered, ‘Seven.’ Then he said to them, ‘Are you still without perception?’

Reflection on the painting

In today's reading we see how at times Jesus and his disciples were on completely different wavelengths. His disciples were only focused on having their hunger satisfied, whilst Jesus gets annoyed at their self-focus. He fires nine questions at them in this short passage!

Jesus warns His disciples: 'Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod'. They need to watch out for the Pharisees' teachings and discern what effect the these have on them. Yeast is a raising agent. In the baking process, yeast is mixed and worked through the entire dough. The yeast becomes one with the dough. Good yeast will make the dough rise and turn the though into a splendid loaf of bread (such as the one in our painting). Bad yeast will result in bread that is flat and inedible. Jesus' comparison suggests that letting false teachings enter our minds will prevent us from rising to our full potential.

Luis Meléndez was one of the the greatest still life painters of 18th century in Spain. Meléndez's Still Life with Figs and Bread contains many elements characteristic of the master's works. His talent for rendering everyday objects with exact detail is evident, as are his marvellous effects of color and light, and subtle variations of texture. Look at the dew on the figs, the glossiness of the bottle and the bread that looks all crispy and fresh. The bone handle of a kitchen knife projects over the edge of a rough wooden tabletop into the viewer's space.

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Elvira
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Elvira
5 months ago

In the Gospel, faced with an inconsequential situation, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his own people and make them see the most important thing, and asks them many questions to think and think.
Normally in life we have a short look, the ears are obstructed and above all the heart is dull, only worried and occupied by the immediate. We do not consider our whole life…. In the course of our long life, we have seen many things, heard many others and we are realizing and discovering what is important.
Jesus wants to teach his disciples, and us, to go beyond the immediate, making them stick if they lack the fundamental or not. He wants them to see and understand that the fundamental thing in their life, and in our life, is their closeness, their presence. In short, his love and mercy. That is what is important to live as sons and daughters of God.

🙏🏻🙏🏻May the time of Lent, which we will begin tomorrow, be a few days to discover what matters in life as followers of Jesus and to remember and discern the demands for us as his followers. He showed it to us with his action and with his word. ¡ May we begin with this attitude this time of conversion, to celebrate worthily the Paschal Mystery!

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

Lovely encouragement, Elvira, thank you.

Thimas@
Member
Thimas@
5 months ago

A terrific painting I love still Life art. Fantin Latour is my favourite with the paintings of roses and so forth so the French did their bit. I have the rose Fantan Latour growing in my garden. Its an old style rose and only really blooms once but it’s worth that one bloom plus unlike most the modern roses it has a great scent. The gospel writers loved the numbers 7 and 12 didn’t they!

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
5 months ago
Reply to  Thimas@

I appreciate learning that you are a gardener, and about the unusual rose Fantan Latour. Watch out for thorns, Thimas.

Last edited 5 months ago by Mark Crain
Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Thimas@

Hi Thimas. Roses – like our lives, they can be brief, let’s make sure they are fragrant!

George K
George K
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

I second that comment!

Jacqueline Cox
Member
Jacqueline Cox
5 months ago

Don’t you think Jesus was directing the disciples to the particular numbers? Numbers in the Bible have a significance. On the 5th day of creation the sea monsters were created. Leviathan in Job was a sea monster which personified human pride. Twelve is always associated with Israel because of the 12 tribes. Israel represents legalism as opposed to grace. The Pharisees also stood for this in their constant arguments with Jesus. Jesus warns his disciples against legalistic hypocrisy which if unchecked and unrecognised will spread and puff up in a religious group so that it becomes like a hospital which only allows people with no illness to attend.
In contrast the number four is the number of faces of the cherubim above the mercy seat and the number of the gospels which tell us of the four aspects which perfectly manifest the grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Seven is the number of the sabbath rest and the completion of God’s plan of salvation.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  Jacqueline Cox

Wow! Very impressive and interesting 🧐

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
5 months ago
Reply to  Jacqueline Cox

The particular numbers catch my attention also Jacqueline, and I am still puzzling.

I have a slightly different takeaway. Of the nine questions Jesus asks in today’s Gospel reading, at least the disciples answer two correctly: twelve and seven. “Or do you not remember?” They remembered. The disciples were paying attention. As Father Patrick explains, they were so focused on their current situation (hungry), they saw but they did not see.

Jesus, help me avoid being so focused on my own circumstance that I fail to see and fail to hear.

Elvira
Member
Elvira
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Crain

Both the number 12 and the number 7 symbolize fullness, perfection. They are the two answers of the disciples to Jesus’ questions and they are correct. Jesus wants them to stop worrying about material needs and to trust fully in the provision of God, who acted by feeding so many people and making them redundant. God’s performance will always be perfect, complete and in abundance, that is God’s miracle.”Have you not yet perceived anything?”

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago

It has come to my notice that there is an exhibition on in Hamburg of the German romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich. I love him!
I’m going to go for the day and I reckon I can do the whole trip for £150, flights, gallery admission.
There was a show on in 1972 at the Tate Gallery of his work – I can’t believe how long ago it was.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

A mega treat, go for it!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

The thing is people say oh don’t be so self-indulgent, thisnk of the cost and so on. But right now I’m thinking do it now or pretty soon you won’t be able to. 🙁

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Yes, I’m with you on that. Soon I’m taking myself off to Exeter for a talk on St. Theresa of Avila – I know how to have a good time!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

Wild!! But she was great. Franco used to take her arm around with him!

Elvira
Member
Elvira
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Ja,ja,ja …es cierto 😅

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Hand? Yes, takes a bit of beating, that. Seems it’s gone back to its home in a convent in Ronda. I like her tartness to God: “if that’s how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few” – ¡qué descaro!

Elvira
Member
Elvira
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

You mean “you” are going to talk about Teresa of Jesus?. If so, I would love to hear you

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

Elvira, I’m not so clever! I’m going to listen to a talk. If I can I’ll summarise it for you. The date is early in March.

Elvira
Member
Elvira
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

Oh si, por favor dime que se dice allí de nuestra Teresa

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
5 months ago

I just love Jesus’s exasperation…why are you talking about bread???
Hmm.. makes you wonder though if we’d have been any different. His teaching was so utterly new and ‘out there’ that I doubt we’d get it either. I said yesterday, I think it took the Resurrection before anything started to sink in.
Lovely painting but… (quietly) I think the Dutch are better at this sort of thing.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago

Well Patricia the Dutch certainly are the masters of this genre but this is still a magnificent painting – n’est pas!

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago

Morning Patricia. Can’t quite agree, see also Juan Sánchez Cotán, and Francisco de Zurbarán.
Only my opinion, but there’s sometimes an austerity in the Spanish bodegones, which I love, while the Dutch are maybe “prettier”. May be a wild generalisation, of course….

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

“bodegon”–I love learning new words.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago

Meléndez came from a family of painters, born in Naples, then under Spanish rule, but who spent his life in Spain, dying in poverty (despite his long and aristocratic surname!) “Meléndez painted his still lifes with a serious sense of reverence. What attracted him was not grand themes but the ordinary stuff of everyday life” in all its colour and variety of form and texture.
What a gorgeous painting. The leading parts are played by the bread, the figs, and the knife, since they are to the fore, and the best lit.. In supporting roles are the tub, the bottle; and the churn – if that’s what it is. It appears to be full and laid on top is – what? Tin foil was invented in the late 18C, and appears very prominently in another of Meléndez’s paintings, if that’s what it is. I would love to know…. For a man who was so fascinated by light, it’s possible he would have been intrigued by its glittering surfaces.
It’s impossible not to love the loaf of bread, this one is so well risen, so appealing in its texture, you long to break it open, and take, eat…… this is good bread, ready to be shared. The yeast was good and true.
When Jesus talked of the abundance of the bread left over from the feeding of the four and five thousand, it seems like an image of how generously his body will be available to his followers in years and centuries to come. There will always be enough for all, provided abundantly.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

Funnily enough Noelle, I remember how tasteless Spanish bread was. I don’t think they put much salt in it. Now I expect it is more tasty.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Interesting. The best is good, but a bit like everywhere there’s a lot of ‘pap’ to be had.

Elvira
Member
Elvira
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Dear Chazbo, With regard to the bread, which seems to be saying: “Eat me”, I remember hearing an explanation in the Prado about the paintings and the time of the author saying that “already” then the bread of Madrid was famous. Because the locals have always boasted of having delicious bread

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

That’s good. Down in poor Andalusia it wasn’t so good – maybe we had a poor bakery where we were. 🥴

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

Spain was one of several places called ‘the breadbasket’ of the Roman Empire.

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

My mind imagines ice laid on top of the churn.

Marilee Pittman
Member
Marilee Pittman
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Crain

I thought so too.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Crain

Yes, I agree, but the same ‘material’ appears in another painting wrapped round, maybe, sweets. But ice is more plausible – fun to speculate, though.

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

Definitely a fun mental exercise with all kinds of spillovers, such as dating the invention of tin foil.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Crain

Greetings Mark. Yes, that’s the joy of these pictures. When I was young, though not as long ago as the 18C, it was still called tin foil….

Elvira
Member
Elvira
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

I also think it’s ice. The container in which it is, made of cork, reminds of the refrigerators that were used when we were children to make ice cream. The first references to snow in refrigerators are from the XVI century, without forgetting that the Romans built underground underground to store snow. In Spain these subways have been discovered and dated. And of course, they had to have ice to preserve food, because in some still lifes appears meat and also fish, like salmon and oysters!!
Now we can buy fish every day, but when I was a child, on Mondays the fishmongers were closed; the best days to buy fish were on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

Great, thank you for that information, Elvira. We had underground ice houses in UK, and I’ve read that the Arabs created ice by lightly flooding the pavements of north-facing walls, so that the water would freeze overnight. And also read of the donkey ‘trains’ that would bring fish from Galicia to Madrid, in the old days. All fascinating!

Elvira
Member
Elvira
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

The former capital of the Lusitania, Emerita Augusta, today Mérida (Extremadura), was an important commercial center between the north and south of Hispania. The snow trade in the city is demonstrated by the appearance in 1920, in excavations in an area outside the walls of the first century, where the remains of a well dedicated to snow conservation were found. Centuries later, it was reused for the same purpose during the 17th century until its definitive abandonment. The other “neveros” are later and are found throughout the peninsula and also in the islands

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Elvira

Wonderful, isn’t archaeology interesting? I love to imagine how our ancestors used to live.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
5 months ago

The handle of the knife is placed so we can grasp it. It is an invitation to ‘come and eat.’ It reminds me a little of Derek Walcott’s poem, Love after Love:

‘The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.’

I rejoice in the life I now have. It is not the life I planned to have, but the yeast growing in my life’s bread is good yeast and I am so thankful for it. Yesterday I went with my daughter and her family to see the bench she had installed in her late father’s memory. It is good my grandsons knew exactly where it was although they don’t go often. She inscribed it with something she had found that he’d written:

‘The right path to take is the one you are on.’

I will leave you with this morning’s musings- my daughter is making pancakes today for the family and I have to get things ready!

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Derek Walcott is brilliant.
I worked with a colleague whose surname was Walcott and I asked “Are you from St Lucia?” She has was amazed but I only knew that because of knowing about him.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Good morning, SfG. Thank you for the poem, so much truth. Meléndez’s knife on the table’s edge is reminiscent of the basket of fruit teetering on the edge of the table in Caravaggio’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’, a device, as you say, to draw the viewer in closer. Bon appétit for later…

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

And the elbow of the disciple virtually poking you in the eye!!

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

And the chair, versions of which are found in so many historic houses, palaces and museums especially in Spain and Italy.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

That’s a great poem SFG.

Mark Crain
Member
Mark Crain
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Thank you SFG.

PETER YAREMKO
Member
PETER YAREMKO
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Thank you for this. I conduct classes in New York City for cancer patients to show them how writing poetry can help them feel better both physically & emotionally. I will introduce them to this triumphant poem.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  PETER YAREMKO

Hello Peter. Now you’ve told us about the wonderful work that you do, I wonder if you’ve ever used a painting, and invited your patients to step inside it and write, or speak, about what they are seeing, and what are the feelings and associations that surface for them. Or perhaps it would be a feeling of being on holiday, in another time and/or place…..

PETER YAREMKO
Member
PETER YAREMKO
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

That’s a lovely idea, Noelle, and I will look into it. I do poetry because there is much research showing its salutary effects — especially for cancer patients.

Jeanne M
Member
Jeanne M
5 months ago
Reply to  PETER YAREMKO

I’m sure, do they write their own poems sometimes?

PETER YAREMKO
Member
PETER YAREMKO
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeanne M

Oh, yes. It’s in writing poems that they can make some sense of their disease & give them a feeling of control.

Marilee Pittman
Member
Marilee Pittman
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Love this poem.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago

Some years ago there was an exhibition of this guy’s art at our National Gallery in London. People were amazed because this sort of still life was associated with Holland and the C18 didn’t seem a very fertile time for Spanish painting. Meléndez blew those conceptions out of the water. There was a self portrait, I remember, which showed what a handsome, fashionable fellow he was. I must go and have another look at the gallery catalogue which I still have.

Jesus refers in this passage to the damage that bad thinking and ideas can have on our moral outlook. There’s plenty of bad yeast around nowadays.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
5 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

There is indeed, and it seems to be growing!

Mike Baird
Member
Mike Baird
5 months ago

Bad yeast… bad loaf.

When I think of “bad yeast” in my life I remember the 60s and 70s era in which I was raised. The “do what you like” culture of sex, drugs and rock n roll took its toll on me and others with whom I lived.

However, there was good yeast among the bad. I remember a wonderful Catholic lady who sat on the back step and patiently listened to the unbelievable babblings of an unbelievable teenager. She later became my mother-in-law. Her witness continues to influence me.

Jesus, help me be good yeast to those I meet today, especially the young.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Baird

Mike I welcome your messages. You are so clearly a man full of faith. Like you I went though that same period, but the difference was I should have known better but didn’t. The bad yeast just grew and grew in me, and the worst thing was I thought it was good yeast! What was I doing that was so wrong?

I don’t look back anymore though, and just take every day as it comes with its challenges. I thank you for your help in facing them.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

When you are ‘old’, as many seem to be on CA, past memories seem to fade and plans for the future aren’t so vital. It’s today that is really important. So I agree with you SFG…

George K
George K
5 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

I am also a child of the sixties. I also partook of the ‘bad yeast’. I was focusing exclusively on the human part of my journey then. I sometimes think to myself “If only I could live my life over, I would not make those same choices”. I cannot undo my past. Today I try to live a spirituality-based life. A one-liner I apply a lot is: “Progress, not perfection”. For many years I focused the imperfections of my past; nowadays I try to focus on the spiritual progress I have made. That change in attitude has given me peace in the present I never had in the past.

George K
George K
5 months ago
Reply to  George K

After thinking about it, I think the change in attitude was from “If it feels good, do it” to “If it’s good, do it”. Jesus said “…only God is good…” The question I ask myself is: “What would God do?” Then I try to do it.

By the way, SFG, I like the poem, it’s one I never saw before.

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