Yesterday, there was a mad hunt for a phone we thought we’d left behind—turns out it was in an obscure side-pocket of a bag, put there to free up hands to juggle even more bags, but we were kind of scurrying around for a bit, looking high and low, trying not to overact. This morning, my daughter left her breakfast behind in my husband’s car at drop off, so right now I’m sitting here waiting to see if she got my message and can swing by the cafeteria for a biscuit before the school bell. Waiting…waiting…. Nope, that didn’t work. So I’ll be running something up there when her growling stomach reminds her what’s happened.
This seems to be our life right now, all this shuttling from place to place, trying to keep up with all our stuff and keep our sanity intact. My husband arrives from the airport and barely gets his suitcase emptied before it’s time to head out for another business trip. Meanwhile, I’m playing that ever-popular mom game called Who’s Got What Activity Where and with What Equipment. Kind of like Clue—you know, Colonel Mustard in the library with the monkey wrench (but thankfully, without the murder). Then, there’s everyone’s daily assembly of backpacks, instrument cases, gym bags, dance totes, and lunch boxes. We’ve been doing this all school year so it should be routine, but with so many parts and pieces, we get pretty weary sometimes and still forget to pack something important.
That’s probably why a particular passage in the New Testament caught my attention. In Matthew 16, Jesus and His disciples have once again piled into the Minivan of the Sea (a.k.a. a Galilean fishing boat) and crossed the massive lake. I say “once again” because the middle third of Matthew’s book reads like a travelogue as they cross the Sea of Galilee back and forth with Jesus while He preaches and heals. And inevitably, something gets left behind:
Somebody forgot to pack the food.
None of the disciples seem too happy, and I can completely relate. It’s the FOOD, for crying out loud. I can relate to something else, too: they’re about to get all wrapped up in who’s at fault and the implications of this failure. Meanwhile, Jesus is busy unpacking some kingdom truths that have nothing to do with how good or bad they are at packing or whether they’re going to have their next meal.
Jesus constantly takes advantage of teachable moments, but where I would have jumped in to teach the disorganized packers about using a checklist or delegating tasks or having emergency cash, He sees an opportunity to drop a different truth into their situation:
“Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” So they began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “It is because we brought no bread.” When Jesus learned of this, He said, “You who have such little faith! Why are you arguing among yourselves about having no bread?” (Matthew 16:6-8 NET)
And if that’s where Jesus’ words ended and I were one of those with Him, I’d be pretty confused.
It would be like if you show up for band practice, realize someone forgot to load the equipment, and then Jesus says, “Watch out for the guitar amps of the self-righteous.”
Or you get to your kids’ soccer game, remember too late it’s your day to bring snacks, and Jesus says, “Be careful about the juice boxes of the hypocrites.”
Or you finally grab a table at Starbucks to do some work, find out you didn’t charge your computer battery, and Jesus says, “Beware the laptops of the legalists.”
I’d probably be thinking, “Uh, was that some kind of weird, passive-aggressive way of reminding me I messed up?” or maybe, with a bit more attitude, “We’re arguing about bread (or amps/ juice boxes/laptops) because that’s going to screw up our whole plan. Don’t you care?”
But Jesus doesn’t end there with the disciples. He calls them to think about what they’ve been learning about ministry and about Him:
“Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you took up? How could you not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread? But beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:9-12)
Jesus calls them to think about bigger issues than who left what bread where—issues like the invasive, crippling legalism being peddled by religious big-wigs. He’s making an object lesson here about missing the forest for the trees (or the banquet of life for the bread left behind) because frankly, that’s what the Pharisees and Sadducees have done. They’ve gotten themselves and everybody else so wrapped up in how perfectly they can keep God’s law (and also a whole bunch of human-issued laws that seemed like good ideas at the time) that nobody can see how God’s law points to a Savior who will do what no human can possibly do: put humans into right standing with God through grace.
Jesus also calls them to think about Who He is and to trust Him. Oh yes, He does care about bread and about them. He cares that they get weary and hungry and frustrated, but He’s been teaching them that for three years. Now it’s time for them to start understanding those truths:
- That He’s not oblivious to things like weariness and hunger. From the moment Jesus entered the realm of humans, this One who is fully God also fully embraced His humanity. He doesn’t take shortcuts to skip out on quintessential human experiences. In fact, before He even began His public ministry, He obediently and willingly underwent the excruciating weariness and hunger of a 40-day fast in the wilderness to face off with the devil who tempts and torments all humanity (see Matthew 4).
- That things like weariness and hunger can also point to higher truth. Jesus met those temptations in the wilderness by reaching for the higher truth of God’s Word. When He was famished and the devil tempted Him to prove Himself by turning rocks to bread, He instead reached for the rock solid truth that being human means you don’t “live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). And when the temptations were over and He’d stood firm, angels came to take care of Him (4:11). He’d later teach on a mountain, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (5:6), but that was never just a nice little saying for Jesus. He knew firsthand what it meant.
- That He’s calling them to a new, anxiety-free perspective about daily bread and daily life. Though He has spiritual maturity as an end goal for His followers, Jesus is also blessedly practical and knows human days aren’t only about being spiritually filled. Bellies need filling, too. What He offers is perspective and an end to worry. On that same mountain, He taught that God cares about little birds enough to feed them and cares about humans even more so (Matt 6:25-34). He taught that His followers can trust that they have a Father who knows how to give good gifts to His children (7:7-11). He taught them to ask for their daily bread (6:11).
- That when anxiety seems warranted because there IS no daily bread, it’s an opportunity for His power and provision. When daily bread looked like it might not be coming and miracles were needed, He had power enough for that, too, feeding 5000 in one place and 4000 in another from a few loaves and fish His disciples rounded up (Matt. 14,15). He even made sure there were baskets of food left over for His disciples who otherwise would be famished and run-ragged from the intense life of apprenticeship to the Master.
What He is asking them to understand is not a what but a Who: not the bread left on the dock but the Bread of Life who has come into the world to save them and has the resources to take care of daily living so they can focus on kingdom purposes (see John 6:35). And He’s also preparing them to understand the cross that’s to come. There, He will obediently and willingly undergo the most quintessential of human experiences—suffering and death—that He may be raised in triumph over sin and death for the sake of all humanity.
The takeaway for me, then, in the midst of all this shuttling from place to place, trying to keep up with all our stuff is that those same truths are mine to unpack and keep with me always. As I mull over them, what I’m left with is profound gratefulness for a God who put on flesh and stepped into human experience in order to provide for me what Ephesians 1:19-20 refers to as the hope of His calling, the wealth of His glorious inheritance, and the incomparable greatness of His power. That gives me a whole lot of perspective and a whole lot of peace.