Our Gospel tonight is full of misunderstanding. Jesus and his Disciples are frustrated, confused, and struggling to communicate with one another. To make matters worse, they are all stuck on a boat. It is an unpleasant situation. This Gospel passage would probably not be the best text to choose for a wedding, profession, or any other happy occasion. However, we do get to witness Jesus navigate through this misunderstanding and we have a lot to learn from how he handles it.
Just like any other misunderstanding, the background to this story is important. Jesus and his Disciples had just been confronted by a group of Pharisees. This group of Pharisees demanded that Jesus perform a sign to prove he was the Messiah. Jesus refused and chastised the Pharisees. Then he got on a boat with his Disciples and sailed away.
We’ve all been in similar group situations like this before, when there has just been a major confrontation and tension is in the air. No one is quite sure what to do or say and everyone is on edge. We are also told by the Gospel writer that the Disciples had forgotten to bring any more bread for their boat ride and there was only loaf of bread to split among the thirteen men. This is when the drama begins.
Jesus, still simmering from his confrontation with the Pharisees, tell his Disciples on the boat to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees”. Jesus is offering his Disciples very practical advice here. Jesus is warning his Disciples that the self-righteous mindset of the Pharisees is contagious, and like yeast, just a little bit of it can go a long way and give rise to all sorts of bad.
The Disciples completely misunderstand Jesus’ words. As soon as they hear the word “yeast”, they think Jesus is talking about literal bread. They think Jesus is admonishing them for not bringing any bread for the boat ride. This is common in tense situations, for group members to internalize what tension is in the air and become very self-conscious about what they have or have not done. Telling ourselves we have done something wrong gives us a narrative to hold on to rather than just sitting with the anxiety the group is experiencing.
Jesus, being the talented teacher he is, immediately picks up on his Disciples’ misunderstanding. He tries to explain himself and how ridiculous it would be for him to be angry about having little bread because he can always multiply more. Jesus reminds his Disciples that they have seen him firsthand multiply enough loaves of bread to feed thousands of people.
We have a lot to learn from how Jesus handles this misunderstanding. First of all, Jesus does not ignore the misunderstanding. Not only does Jesus immediately pick up on what his Disciples are confused about, but he also addresses it right away. It’s always tempting in times of misunderstanding to just not want to deal with it, to say you don’t have the time and energy to work through the conflict. Ignoring misunderstanding only leads to more misunderstanding down the road. Jesus does not do this and that takes courage.
Second, Jesus asks questions. In the span of seven verses, Jesus asks nine separate questions. Asking questions can be a powerful way to channel the aggressiveness we may feel during a misunderstanding. Good heartfelt questions can simultaneously get us closer to the truth while still expressing whatever emotions we are feeling.
Third and finally, Jesus moves on. Right after this Gospel passage ends, we are told that Jesus heals a blind man. Holding on to resentments over a misunderstanding is dangerous and gets in the way of us being servants of God. Jesus shows us that we need to constantly be moving on to stay focused on the work in front us, and that work is the will of God.
So tonight let us pray for the strength, patience, and courage to navigate through the misunderstandings in our lives, all for the greater glory of God, amen.
I often wonder, as people who read the Scriptures in a world and a context so far removed from the ones in which they were written, how much we lose, or have lost, in our comprehension of them. Can we really comprehend what they are saying, if we don’t have some understanding of the world in which they were written? We hear the Scriptures read, or we read them ourselves, and because we either don’t know the backstory, or because we are so familiar with the text itself, we read and our hearts are not stirred; we read, and we are not convicted; we read, and a fog of incomprehension descends upon our minds, and we are not converted. Now I know this is not always the case. I know this is a gross generalization and exaggeration. But I know too, at least for me, many parts of Scripture leave me yawning. I don’t know why something is important, and I can’t be bothered figuring it out. It would be better if I were at least scratching my head wondering what it means. Instead, I simply move on until at last a ray of light penetrates the fog of my incomprehension. And that is the danger. When our incomprehension fogs our understanding, the meaning, and the power of Scripture is lost to us, and even for us. When that happens, Scripture loses its ability to stir, convict, and convert us.