We are joining Jesus today after His encounter with the Pharisees who were looking for a sign. “Just one more so we can be sure.” Jesus denied their request and left them standing on the sea shore. Now He and His disciples head out for the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
I’m not sure if today’s interaction takes place on the way or after they reach the other side. Matthew’s account led me to believe they had reached their destination but Mark makes me wonder. Mark’s statement that “they had only one loaf with them in the boat” (verse 14) leads me to believe they were still in the boat. Whether they were on dry land or on the sea, Jesus was still thinking about their run in with the Pharisees.
Jesus took issue with the Pharisees on many levels. There were at least three areas that their doctrines and behaviors were flawed. Jesus didn’t address them all during this trip but they all interconnected to make up the leaven that inspired His instructions to His disciples. They were a danger to Him physically and to His disciples spiritual health.
The Pharisees were the interpreters of the scriptures. They were also experts at making the scriptures suit their interpretations or traditions. They were very good at teaching the people to do exactly what they told them to do. This is the first huge flaw Jesus was concerned about.
I remember as a child watching the Bullwinkle show and one of the shorts included in the program was “Fractured Fairytales.” In the short they would take a well-known fairytale and twist it in some way to come up with a whole new scenario. This is what the Pharisees did with the scriptures. This is what they had been doing every time they encountered Jesus. This is what Jesus was cautioning His disciples against today.
Jesus doesn’t directly address the other two flaws in our story but I want to mention them anyway. Their second huge flaw was that they instructed the people in keeping the law but added on their own traditions. This made the law even more impossible to keep. But when it came to them performing the things they taught, they found loopholes to get out of it.
The third flawed area Jesus addresses on other occasions was that everything they did was for the public to see how “holy” they were, rather than being directed towards God. The Pharisees loved to put on a show when they would pray, and even in how they dressed. They didn’t do these things to please God or even try to improve their relationship with Him. They did it to get noticed by the people. They wanted the praise of the people for being holy. Reminds me of an apple that has a beautiful skin but when you cut it open it is rotten as can be.
When Jesus begins to address His concerns about the Pharisees being dangerous with His disciples, they totally miss His point. Jesus taught the crowds in parables so speaking this way was very natural for Him. I’m sure His disciples knew this but they often didn’t understand His meaning without clarification. Today would be one of the times they needed help to find His meaning.
Jesus’ remarks concerning His disciples’ lack of understanding can be taken in a several different ways. The first would be frustration: “You still don’t get it! What have we been doing all these months?” I see this one as a real possibility, especially if you hear His remarks to the Pharisees in this same light. If so, I would also expect His interactions with the two different groups to happen close together in time; still on the boat instead of on land. Otherwise His frustration would have subsided.
The second interpretation I see would be one of alarm: “Why don’t you understand? This is really important for your continued safety! What do I need to do to get the lessons to stick?” Because Jesus asks them questions and waits for their reply, I think this one holds merit too. He is not lecturing at them but working through the facts with them.
The last scenario I see is one of sadness: “All this time and you still don’t get the basics. Why can’t you understand? Why don’t you remember?” This one would be my least likely choice because I don’t really hear it in His statements. However, He did weep for Israel because they didn’t understand and turn to Him.
Whatever Jesus’ attitude when He addressed His disciples’, He stuck with His explanation until they got His meaning. He didn’t throw up His hands in exasperation at their ignorance. He didn’t yell at them and berate them. He also didn’t baby them and say everything would be ok even if they didn’t understand. He firmly took them step by step through the process until they got to where He needed them to be. At this point in their relationship they could handle the firmness.
Lord Jesus, thank You for knowing when to push us and when to carry us. Thank You for showing me Your human side too. I know You must have gotten exasperated at times too. Thank You for showing me that even when exasperated, it is possible to remain loving. Help me live by Your example in that area too.
Thank You for cautioning Your disciples about the Pharisees. These were men they had been taught to respect from their youth. Was it difficult for them to go against that upbringing? Thank You that You know the hearts of men and guide us in whom to trust and who to be wary of, WHEN we listen. Please help me in that area right now Lord. I can certainly use Your direction.