When we take a trip, we are especially aware of road signs. We know that if we miss a turn we may find ourselves heading in the wrong direction. This can become a real challenge when we near a big city and see what seems like hundreds of signs staring us in the face.
Jesus rebuked the people of his age because they weren’t paying attention to the “road signs” that God was setting up for them. It seemed they didn’t care whether or not they reached their destination. Probably they weren’t even sure of what their life’s destination was. He told them that they were skilled at reading the “weather signs” in the sky. Examining the color of the sky, they could predict rain, snow, storms, and so on. For some reason, however, they didn’t bother studying the more important signs that God was giving them.
Even the disciples of Jesus, those who listened to him every day, did not know how to the read God’s “road signs.” We see this in the discussion reported by St. Mark today (Mark 8:14-21).
“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, ‘Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread.”
Let’s imagine the scene. They were riding in the boat and were hungry. Only one had the foresight to bring a loaf of bread, so they started arguing among themselves about how to share the loaf. Jesus jumped in with a warning. They were being driven by the same spirit that gripped the Pharisees and Herod—selfishness, greed, seeking to satisfy their own appetites. “Leaven” was Jesus’s way of saying “spirit.” They didn’t catch on to what Jesus was saying. They thought he was getting on their case for not bringing lunch along.
Knowing they missed the point Jesus started asking them questions:
“Do you not yet understand or comprehend?”
“Are your hearts hardened?”
“Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?”
“And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?”
These men were blind, hardened, and spiritually dull.
They remembered that there were twelve wicker baskets of fragments left, and, on another similar occasion, there were seven. Didn’t they catch on? If God was concerned just about feeding people, there wouldn’t have been any leftovers. The abundance of bread that filled “twelve” and “seven” baskets was an indication that the time of fulfillment had come. Twelve and seven were perfect numbers—symbols of fulfillment. Didn’t they catch on to what God was trying to tell them—that the great day of his kingdom on earth had come? And yet they were squabbling over food!
If we were Jesus’ disciples, do you think we would have caught on to the signs of the times? Would we have been focused on the age of fulfillment that Jesus was ushering in, or would we have been focused on having our own needs met? Would Jesus have cited us as spiritually dull, hard of heart, and deaf to God’s Word?
We live in the age of the “kingdom.” God is giving us signs of fulfillment—the twelve wicker baskets—the abundance of bread. Are we too busy figuring out what we’ll have for supper to recognize what he’s trying to tell us? How much of our hearts have been captured by the leaven of the Pharisees—pride, self-righteousness, self-centeredness, and the leaven of Herod—greed, gluttony, and personal power?
What is Jesus telling us disciples of today as we argue over insignificant things?
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the Lord, over vast waters” (Ps 29:3).