Understanding Jesus

In the Gospels, the disciples are often portrayed as a rather foolish group. At times, their goofs take on an almost humorous flare. For example, on two occasions Jesus feeds a crowd of people. The first time, Jesus feeds 5,000 men. This is not the only time that Jesus does this. He also feeds a crowd of 4,000. After these two miraculous feedings have occurred, the disciples have a problem. They don’t have enough bread. The Gospel of Mark says, “And the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them” (Mark 8:14).

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. He speaks of leaven and tells them to beware. The disciples do not understand that Jesus is speaking in figurative terms. They keep thinking about the fact that they don’t have any bread. “They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, ‘He said that because we did not bring any bread’” (Matthew 16:7).

I wonder what their discussion involved. Maybe they tried to find somebody to blame for their lack of bread. Perhaps they wondered where they might be able to get more bread. Whatever the case may be, Jesus’ words which follow imply that they have not properly understood the things
He has been doing. Jesus says,
You men of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand nor remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you picked up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you about bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:8-11)

It is quite easy for us to condemn the followers of Jesus in the Gospels for not understanding what it really means to follow. It is also easy for us to condemn others today for misunderstanding what it means to follow Jesus. But what about us? Do we ever misunderstand Jesus? Are we taken care of by God, only to doubt and discuss whether or not God is with us? When Jesus feeds the multitudes in the Gospels, He is portrayed as the compassionate shepherd who takes care of those who can not take care of themselves. For people familiar with the exodus events, it recalls how God provides for the people in the wilderness even though they, much like the disciples of the Gospels, continue to misunderstand.

The disciples misunderstood the true identity of Jesus. He had fed thousands of people on more than one occasion, and then they discuss their lack of bread. In the Gospel of Matthew, we then read about what it actually means to follow Jesus. It is not about getting a loaf of bread. Rather, Jesus tells them, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:24-25).