Most people miss what Jesus is saying in this passage, because it’s all one thing: The Jewish leaders trusted in logic instead of walking in faith. Their legalism insisted that they must adhere to the Law of Moses, but they insisted that it had to read and understood via human reason and legalistic construction.
In the previous chapter, Jesus had traveled with the Twelve to the coast of the Mediterranean, to Tyre and Sidon. Then they had returned to the vicinity of Galilee where, upon the side of some unnamed hill or mountain, Jesus fed the 4000. From there, they went down to the coast of Galilee and sailed to the westernmost shore, to the village of Magdala. It was here that yet another group of Jewish leaders harassed Jesus.
For once it was not a tag team attack; the Pharisees were allied with the Sadducees in attempting to box in Jesus through His teachings. This meant it was a higher ranking bunch than previously; men with more legal authority. Their challenge to Jesus was to prove His claims as one teaching the truth of God. Since His teaching was clearly not orthodox, perhaps He could provide some miraculous sign to justify the radical departure from common standards? This was a legal challenge. If He could do miracles before their eyes, not by some sleight of hand as so many mavericks had done before, then they would certify Him as approved. At least, that was the ostensible objective here.
They were wholly unlikely to accept anything He might do. These were colleagues of the Sanhedrin bearing an encyclopedic lore of dealing with charlatans, so their whole mission was to tag Jesus as just another one. The Lord said He wasn’t playing along. They demanded a sign of proof, but had long ignored the signs of prophecy. One more sign was clearly not going to help them recognize the Messiah. It was the same refusal He had offered a couple of previous delegations coming to examine Him, the mockery that the pagan Ninevites had repented at the preaching of a foreign prophet in the name of a foreign God, but the Jews couldn’t be bothered to grasp the full revelation of God’s will they had long held as His own people.
So Jesus and His disciples sailed away across the Galilee toward Bethsaida, on their way farther north to Cesarea Philippi. They arrived at the port of Bethsaida and the disciples realized they had failed to pack food for their trip. It would be hard to buy that food now, since Bethsaida was a tiny village with no farmland anywhere nearby. Fish aplenty, and maybe some fruit, but there was no bakery. This was where Jesus had fed the 5000, and they had previously noted then that it was impossible to get enough food to feed so many in such a remote area with almost no facilities. This would mean a long hike without any bread.
In the midst of this gloomy discussion, Jesus said something totally off subject. They were so absorbed in their immediate discomfort that they struggled to fit His comment about the leaven of Pharisees and Sadducees into the context. Was He fussing about their neglect?
Jesus had to stop them. Look around, guys — this is where He fed the 5000 when the only food on hand was the small lunch of a young lad. And on their way here He had fed another 4000. And both times they had full baskets of food for the next day or so. When did bread suddenly become a significant issue? He got their attention.
The Jewish leadership wouldn’t recognize a miracle if it slapped them in the face. Their doctrine was legalism — the Law of Moses pushed through the grinder of human reason. It blinded them to truth, so that miracles made no difference. The Father’s power was not subject to logic; it didn’t not operate on a scale that human minds could manage. The Lord provides. If Jesus needed food, He could get it from nothing. That’s all part of the promises of the Covenant. The Jewish leadership no longer had a clue what was in the Covenant. They had abandoned the Covenant long ago.
Let’s not make that mistake. Let’s restore the mysticism of the ancient Hebrew mind. Faith is far, far above mere human reason.