14 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
16 They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
(Mark 8:14-21 NIV)
In yesterday’s text, Jesus and His disciples arrived at Dalmanutha, only to be accosted by the Pharisees. The Pharisees came out to pick a fight with Jesus, to discredit Him and His ministry. Jesus saw through their demand for a sign, denied their request, got back in the boat, and headed out to the other side of the lake again.
Today’s passage takes place while Jesus and His disciples were en route from Dalmanutha to the other side of the lake (Bethsaida, as we shall see in the next passage – v. 22). As the disciples were rowing their boat across the lake, they were likely getting hungry. As they took inventory of what provisions they had brought with them, all they could find was one small loaf of bread – not enough for thirteen hungry men!
While the disciples were discussing their situation, Jesus interjects His warning into the conversation: “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
In Jesus’ day, yeast represented evil influence or corruption. A very small amount of yeast created a huge outcome; its effect in a loaf of bread is pervasive. Similarly, a small amount of sin (evil influence or corruption) has a huge effect on our lives.
Jesus warned His disciples against two groups: the Pharisees and Herod. The Pharisees represented self-righteousness and following the traditions of men rather than following God and His Word. Herod represented power, control, wealth, and self-glorification. In both of these images, Jesus warns against seeking after other substitutes for God – things or people that become idols in their lives and ours.
Jesus was also warning His disciples against being consumed with the temporal, the here and now. Instead, Jesus was trying to encourage His disciples to focus on eternal pursuits – having a spiritual hunger for God Himself, developing a Kingdom mindset.
Jesus’ warning goes right over His disciples’ heads – they don’t have a clue what Jesus is talking about, so they go right back to discussing the dilemma at hand – they didn’t bring enough food for the journey.
Jesus re-engages His disciples in a very teachable moment. Here they are in the boat, no outside crowds bearing down on them, no Pharisees to criticize them, just Jesus and His guys with some uninterrupted quiet time together.
Jesus begins to ask them questions:
- Why are you talking about having no bread?
- Do you still not see or understand?
- Are your hearts hardened?
- Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?
The disciples still don’t grasp what Jesus is saying and asking. Jesus is trying to help them connect the dots of what has happened and what is happening. Jesus even gathers up the dots so the disciples can connect them – the parables and their private explanations, the miracles, the healings, their participation with Jesus in all these events.
Finally, Jesus asks them if they remember the feedings of the 5,000 and the 4,000. Jesus walks them through both miracles – how many were fed, the size of the baskets, the amount of remaining food gathered up. In this, Jesus again shows His perfect provision for the Twelve (feeding of the 5,000) as well as His ample abundance for Jew and Gentile alike (feeding of the 4,000). If Jesus could feed that many people with a child’s lunch, how much more can He do with one loaf of bread for thirteen men?
Jesus ends with a question that goes unanswered: “Do you still not understand?” Their lack of response is a negative reply – they still don’t get who Jesus is and what He is doing.
How often is our response to Jesus just like that of His disciples – slow to understand and grasp what He has put in plain sight.
May we not experience the world through our own physical senses – what we can or cannot see, hear, taste, or feel, what we can or cannot do for ourselves.
Instead, may we take up Jesus’ warning and experience the world through Him living in and through us. May we experience the confidence in His ability to sustain us, to carry us through the hard times, and to provide for us when we have nothing to give on our own.
May we pay attention – may we live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).