Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Not the swiftest

Today's New Testament reading doesn't put the disciples in a very good light. Let's see what happens.
  • Crowds come to Jesus, and he heals many of the people. Then he tells the disciples that he wants to feed them (Matthew 15:32). In the previous chapter, the disciples told Jesus to send a similar crowd away, but instead Jesus took five rolls and two fish and fed the crowd of over 5000. Here we have a smaller crowd and more rolls, but the disciples only manage to say, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?" (Matthew 15:33). Jesus feeds the crowd in roughly the same way.
  • A little later, Jesus warns them to be on their guard "against the yeast of the Pharisees and Saducees." The disciples say to each other, "It is because we didn't bring any bread." (Matthew 16:6-7). Jesus explains a little more to them, and they finally figure out that he means the "yeast" is the teaching of the Pharisees and Saducees.
I find this passage fascinating. Jesus says these sort of oblique things to them, and they completely don't get it. First, with the crowd. The disciples at least don't tell Jesus to send everybody away (the way they did in chapter 14). But when he says he has compassion on the crowd, the disciples don't even recognize that they're in the same situation: deserted place, big crowds healed by Jesus, people need something to eat. If they did, perhaps they might have said, "Hey, last time Jesus fed the whole place with five loaves and two fish! Maybe this time he'll do the same thing? Let's ask him!"

But they don't do that.

Then he says something about the "yeast of the Pharisees and Saducees" and they think he's talking about bread. These guys are really something.

Now, why do you suppose we get all this detail about how the disciples so often miss what Jesus says? Here's a possibility.

Have you ever gone through a difficult period, when you
  • forgot to think about God; or
  • didn't know what God wanted you to do; or
  • couldn't understand what God was saying to you?
Did you ever feel kind of dumb or incompetent afterward?

I think that it's because of people like us that the Holy Spirit wanted this particular passage recorded. Think you're sometimes too silly or too self-absorbed or uneducated to be used by God?

Read this passage... and think again:
"Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

They discussed this among themselves and said, "It is because we didn't bring any bread."

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don't you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? .... How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
from Matthew 16:6-12

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