Chapter 16:5-12 (ESV) - When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” 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.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Question to consider: What does Jesus declare leaven to symbolize?
Jesus and the disciples immediately went back in the boat and sailed for Bethsaida which was a big fish market which seems like an ironic place to go when talking about the sign of Jonah. I think this quick insult and exit was a dramatic way of contrasting the faith of the Gentiles with the faith of the religious leaders (and even the disciples). Those who should have recognized their Messiah demanded signs, and those who didn’t even know to look for a Messiah understood who Jesus was better than the disciples who walked with Him.
On the way over, Jesus warned the disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In a previous devotion I argued that leaven was not a symbol for sin but for teaching. When Jesus gave this warning, He was talking about the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees and not their sin (though the two things could be tied together).
The disciples however couldn’t get past the fact that they had forgotten to bring enough bread on their journey and thought Jesus was chastising them for running out of bread. Again, Jesus had remarked at the great faith of the Canaanite woman but still referred to the disciples in terms of their little faith. How could they be worried about bread when Jesus had already demonstrated in two dramatic miracles that food was not something they should be anxious about?
The disciples were also concerned about the fact that Jesus continued to insult the Pharisees and Sadducees and speak out against them. As much as we should show respect to those whom God has put as spiritual leaders over us, our leaders need to be held accountable to God’s word. We should always be prepared to test their teaching in light of scripture, especially now that we have the complete revelation of God in the Bible. Jesus knew the hearts of these religious leaders and therefore gave the disciples permission to ignore their teaching.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for giving us teachers who can help us to understand Your word. Please guide them to teach with a heart of humility so that all of us may be changed by what You have revealed to us. Amen.