Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 8:13-26
How Slow of Heart We Are
Having denied the Pharisees a sign, which they would have found fault with anyway, Jesus and his disciples cross the Jordan again to its most northern shore where Bethsaida was located. While they are crossing we have a sad but humorous account of the disciples misunderstanding Jesus’ words, and in a most fundamental way. As they had just left the Pharisees who wanted nothing more but to argue with Jesus and hopefully catch him in his words, he warned his disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Matthew adds the “Sadducees” as well). The disciples somehow misunderstand Jesus to be referring to the fact that they had forgotten to bring bread for their journey across the lake. As believers who have read this passage time and again, we laugh and roll our eyes, “How could they apply Jesus’ words about the leaven of the Pharisees to their having forgotten bread? Did they think that Jesus was warning them that if this ever happens again, do not under any circumstances ask the Pharisees for their bread! It’s got bad leaven in it.”
We sympathize with our Lord in this account even as he expresses his frustration: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Jesus then reminds them of the separate feedings of the 5000 and 4000 with meager rations and the baskets of leftovers taken up afterwards. How could they worry about a lack of bread when they were in a boat with the master chef and most hospitable dinner host? We are slow learners: “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). And why is this so? Because of the hardness of our hearts which blind and deafen us. Sin keeps us from hearing and seeing as we should; it shrouds our heads with a thick veil.
As for the “progressive” healing of the blind man just afterwards, in which Jesus seems to have to take a redo, I agree with those who see this as our Lord’s showing us that our spiritual healing moves in stages. We are babes in Christ when we are born again, but we are expected to grow in grace through the regular application of the word of God to our lives as the Holy Spirit plows the word into our hearts through Scripture reading, attention to sound biblical teaching, and accountability to a covenanted group of believers (i.e., a local church). If we do not avail ourselves to these essential spiritual disciplines, we shall ever be babes in Christ, misunderstanding the simplest teachings, never growing to maturity.