Friday, August 12, 2011

Matthew 16:5–12

Matthew 16:5–12 (ESV): The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees


In this passage Jesus warns the disciples to avoid the “leaven” of the the Pharisees and the Sadducees (verse 6 (ESV)). Because the disciples have forgotten to bring any bread (and seem to have food on their minds), they talk amongst themselves and come to the group conclusion that Jesus is probably being literal—that he’s warning them not to use any leaven given to them from the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Jesus, however, has no patience for the disciples in this instance:

But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (verses 8–11 (ESV))
At this point the disciples realize that Jesus is not talking about physical leaven, but about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.


When Jesus fed the 4,000 men (plus women and children), I commented that although I thought the disciples were being a bit… er… dense, Jesus didn’t really get exasperated with them. So I might have been judging them too harshly. However, in this passage he does.

But we should also notice that Jesus isn’t calling them slow, or dumb, or ignorant. He calls them “you of little faith.” (One of my pastors once mentioned that Jesus uses this phrase so often that it’s practically a nickname for the disciples—“Little Faith.”) This isn’t an issue of them not understanding what Jesus is saying so much as it is an issue of them not having faith. They really are focused on bread! Even though they were present when Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men (plus women and children), and again when he miraculously fed 4,000 men (plus women and children), they are so focused right now on the fact that they don’t have any bread that they can’t pay attention to Jesus’ teachings. After seeing those two miracles, do the disciples really think that they’re going to starve?

But as usual I try not to judge the disciples too harshly unless I’m judging myself even more harshly. How often do we doubt God’s promises to us? Even though He has promised to take care of us, how often do we think that this is the one exception in all of history—the one instance where He will be powerless to take care of us, despite the fact that He has never been powerless before? Of course we don’t think of it in those terms, any more than the disciples were consciously thinking that Jesus was going to let them starve; it’s an attitude in our hearts, which, while we don’t consciously think about it, still drives our actions. Even if the only action that it drives is to cause us to worry, that’s still enough for us to be judged lacking by God; we should never worry. It is a matter of faith; it’s a matter of believing—not just in our minds, but also in our hearts—that God is in control, and that He will take care of us. He has promised to do so, and the situation we’re currently going through is not the one exception in all of history when He will not live up to His promises.

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