Analyzing the Passages
But the last few paragraphs are a digression from the goal of learning the real lesson of these two passages. There are a few times in the Scriptures where Jesus gets really upset, and almost all Christian teachers and leaders seem to avoid those parts of the Scripture, or try really hard to misunderstand the implications of such passages. For these two passages, the lesson generally taught is that if Jesus had chosen such lunkheads to be his disciples, then there is hope for us who are so much smarter than they are! I sometimes wonder if such ignorance is studied or accidental.
In Matthew 16:1-4, Jesus essentially gave us the equivalent of an IQ test for determining those ndividuals who had sufficient brain power to make religious deductions from observations of miracles. The test is if someone is smart enough to take measurements of two different values and come up with an accurate pediction of a natural phenomenon. If your predictions are false then you haven't got what it takes. If they come to pass then you are qualified.
So what set Jesus off? The Pharisees and Sadducees had enough brains to predict the weather so that they would know whether to take an umbrella or how to dress or figure out whether to leave the house or not. The extent of their investment in their predictions was limited to making sure they did not get wet. In contrast, the disciples were fishermen, so correctly predicting the weather was a matter of life and death to them. If anyone had to have the skill and incentive to get their predictions of the weather right, it definitely was Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the professional fishermen in the group. Peter had been doing it for years, so he had to have gotten that aspect of fishing on the Sea of Galilee down right! How many times have computer power users uttered words like Jesus' when confronted with having to fix multiple computer foul-ups by people who, away from the keyboard, clearly demonstrated that they had enough intelligence to do it right if they just paid attention?
This is clearly evidence of a loss of confidence in one's intelligence and ability to correctly figure "stuff" out that Jesus and God are telling them is within their mental span of capability. This lack of confidence is clearly traceable to the implied declaration of those who they regarded as the religious "experts" that Jesus' previous two miracles were inadequate signs from heaven, since Jesus referred to "the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees". Jesus went on to point out the two variables of each feeding (number of loaves brought to him and the number of people fed) and the result (number of baskets of bread left afterwards). Matthew claims they got it after Jesus walked them through the numbers, but he was the tax collector of the group and lived and died by numbers and careful records. Mark's account is acknowledged as being derived from Peter's memory of things, so it appears that the Senior Galilee Fisherman of the group didn't think they got it.
Okay, so the disciples were being worked over for not figuring "something" out. Usually, if you have to figure something out, you have a problem whose solution requires doing that "figuring out". The problem the disciples had is that they were multiple grown men in a boat with one loaf of bread between the lot of them for lunch. It was while they were worrying about the amount of food they had on hand when Jesus made his comment about "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees". The disciples now had two problems: figuring out how to stretch that single loaf of bread into a full meal for all of them, and figuring out what Jesus was talking about. Given the size of boats on the Sea of Galilee, it probably was not a secret to Jesus that they had only one loaf, so they "logically" figured that Jesus was talking about their lack of foresight in bringing bread.
It was when they said "It's because we brought no bread", that Jesus lost it. Why? When confronted twice by the problem of having more people than bread to feed them, the disciples had said the same thing about those people ("they brought no bread with them!"), and had logically concluded that they had to suffer the consequences of their lack of foresight. I confess that I am one of those who have taught that some aspects of suffering do not as much come directly from God, but come from God allowing us to suffer the consequences of our lack of foresight. However, Jesus did not let that lack of foresight stop him from feeing those people. Please re-read the texts again and notice that Jesus addressed the lack of bread in the boat by talking about "running the numbers" of the two miracle feedings. One conclusion Jesus wanted them to make was that their lack of foresight was no reason for him not to miraculously feed them as well. Matthew's account then as Jesus repeating the warning about the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We will be charitable and say that what Matthew meant was not that they figured out, at that moment, that Jesus was talking about the teaching ("doctrine") of the Pharisees, but that they eventually figured it out afterwards.
But that discussion about bread is somewhat irrelevant because Jesus' reply about bread was an attempt to correct a misunderstanding of his statement, not of that which that statement was warning them against. What was Jesus really trying to warn the disciples about? They were trying to fit Jesus' teaching into the context of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees that they had previously learned. It should be instructive to note that Mark has Jesus asking the disciples "who do you say that I am?" as soon as they were in a private place after this incident. We tend not to tie those two passages together because there is an intervening miracle in verses 22 to 26 that is so instructive in itself and within this context that it bears quoting here:
22 And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. 24 And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. 25 After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. 26 And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.
Please keep this within the sweep of the context that starts in verse 1. After getting lambasted by Jesus, the disciples start observing. The miracle here is a two part one. Jesus performs part one, and asks the man about his vision. The man complains about the "mix up" of what he is seeing. Jesus then performs part two, and the man sees clearly.
Many have siezed on the details of this miracle to argue that Jesus was performing a cateract surgery and had partly botched it. In fact, the man had two problems. The first problem was the lack of eyesight, and was fixed by healing the eyes. The second miracle repaired the subsystem of the brain dedicated to translating the signals from the eyes into conceptual entities. Doubtless, the critics of Jesus living then would have complained about the fact that the miracle required two steps and would have advanced that that was proof Jesus was not who he claimed, implying that "real" miracles would require only one step! Given that they themselves would not be able to perform either step of this miracle is an illustration of what Paul was saying about people teaching the Law who didn't understand the Law (1 Timothy 1:7). The disciples, however, realize that it is results that count. Thus:
27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? 28 And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. 29 And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. 30 And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. 31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
Note that in verse 33, Jesus again "loses it" and severely rebukes Peter for what he said. What was Peter's problem? He again fell into the habit of mixing the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees with Jesus' teachings. In this case, he wanted to square what Jesus was saying to what the Pharisees and Sadducees taught in favor of the Pharisees and Sadducees. This was so profoundly bad that Jesus saw Peter standing in the place of Satan.
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