Matthew 16:5–12: Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees
As Jesus departs from his confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the conversation is fresh on his mind. While his disciples worry themselves about physical food—and the lack of it on their boat—Jesus is worried about the long-term damage that the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees will inflict upon those who listen to it. Accordingly, Jesus seeks to redirect his disciples to what is truly important so that they don’t miss the signs about Jesus.
1. Where are Jesus and his disciples in v. 5? Where had they been in the previous two passages? What had happened back in Galilee in the previous passage (Matt. 16:1–4)? How does that conversation inform Jesus’ warning to his disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees? In the context of other uses in the Gospel of Matthew, what does the word “discussing” suggest about the misguided nature of the disciples’ conversation (v. 7)?
2. Why does Jesus rebuke his disciples as having “little faith” when they worry about their lack of bread (v. 8)? What kind of perception is Jesus seeking when he laments that they do “not yet perceive” (v. 9)? How is faith related to perception? Why does Jesus ask about whether the disciples “remember” the feedings of the five thousand and of the four thousand? Why does Jesus ask whether they remember the number of baskets gathered?
3. Why does Jesus insist that his disciples do not need to worry about the bread (v. 11)? What does Jesus instead mean when he speaks about the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (v. 12)? What precisely is this leaven? Why does it take so long for the disciples to “understand” Jesus’ point (v. 12)? How does this understanding relate to the understanding of Peter in the next passage (Matt. 16:13–20)?
4. What pulls at you to distract you from Jesus as the Messiah of his Jewish and Gentile church? In what ways do the concerns about your physical needs distract you from Jesus the Messiah? What kinds of religious traditions from your past keep you from embracing Jesus in his fullness? What temptations toward radical individualism and personal autonomy pull your heart away from the Lord?