Jesus surveyed the crowd before Him, noting how eager the people were to hear Him speak. Possibly, candidates for His kingdom, He thought. But there were other faces, Pharisees and Saducees, the leaders of the Hebrew nation, that were not drawn out to seek His wisdom. Rather, they listened intently to hear Jesus speak words they could twist to condemn Him. Later, when He was alone with His disciples, Jesus said. "[B]ware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Saducees" (Matt. 16:6).
The disciples' reaction to Jesus' statement illustrates an important element of the way they listened to Jesus. They thought He meant to chide them for not bring enough bread with them. Instead of bewaring of the influence of the leaders, they thought He meant literal bread, because He said the word "leaven." Leaven meant bread to their minds; therefore, Jesus followed up with a reminder of the four thousand and the five thousand they had fed at one time with the simple exercise of faith. He didn't mean bread. They had enough bread, since Jesus could create it out of a few small loaves and fishes. He meant beware of the leaven, the influence, of the leaders. They misunderstood. They thought He spoke of literal bread. They misunderstood much of what Jesus tried to teach them, because they were steeped in the ancient traditions of their fathers. They could only see Jesus sitting on a Roman throne. Throughout His teachings, they listened with tradition running in the background.
A short while later He asked them, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" This conversation allowed Him to speak openly about what the future held for Him--and for them. He said, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver him unto the Gentiles: and they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again" (Mark 10:13, 14). "And they [the disciples] kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean (Mark 9:10). Again, they misunderstood. They tried to attach a symbolic meaning to something that we know was clearly literal.
I find it interesting that what they thought was literal was symbolic, and what they thought symbolic was literal.
We do that today. We misunderstand what the word of God is trying to tell us. In His day Jesus spoke of putting old wine into new bottles. How important to understand that new truth belongs in new bottles, new settings, while that which is old settles down to become the carpeting, the background for our lives. Use the new settings for the new wine, forgetting the traditions of the fathers.
Here is a parable that the disciples didn't understand and that we misunderstand, even today. It was the Thursday evening before Passover Sabbath. They had just eaten the Passover meal and could see that Jesus' bearing was burdened, not what they were used to seeing in Him. Just before stepping in to the Garden of Gethsemane He said something totally out of character for Him and the diametric opposite of anything they expected Him to say. He said, "When I sent you without purse, and script, and shoes, lacked ye anything? . . . But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword., let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end" (Luke 22:36, 37).
The disciples realized that these words signified a change in Christ's behavior and in His relationship with the world. Perhaps now He would appear in His true character and make their lives less painful.