This year I set a goal to read through the entire bible in the year (I’m using this reading plan from Ligonier) and am using a reader’s edition Bible, which takes out all verse and chapter designations, as well as most section headings. I find it much easier to read the Bible as a cohesive book, instead of treating it like bits and pieces all separate and distinct from each other. This helps me in particular draw out broad themes I would not normally notice taking it piecemeal.
One place in particular this has been helpful is in Matthew 14-16. In chapter 14, Jesus is teaching a large crowd and when dinnertime rolls around he has compassion on them. When Jesus tells the disciples to feed the large crowd so that they can stay and listen to Him teach, the disciples respond despairingly that they only have a five loaves and two fish to work with. Jesus then performs a miracle and, using only these items, feeds the group of five thousand men, plus women and children.
In chapter 15, what seems to be just days later, they encounter the same situation as Jesus is teaching in another town. Again, He has compassion on the crowd and doesn’t want to send them away from Him for a meal. He tells the disciples to feed the crowd and, again, they respond that there is no food but seven loaves and a few fish. Again, Jesus performs a miracle, making enough food to feed four thousand men, plus women and children.
In chapter 16, Jesus travels to another place by boat and during their trip, the disciples realize they have no bread. At this time, Jesus tries to teach them to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Taking Him literally, the disciples are confused since they have no bread with them, still only thinking about their physical need. And Jesus responds with great patience and compassion.
O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The disciples are so concerned about their physical need for food that they do not understand that Jesus is trying to care for their spiritual needs at the moment. Already they have forgotten the miracles Jesus performed with the bread and fish. They do not trust that He will take care of their needs, even though He has proved faithful in the past, and their anxiety over their stomachs blinds them to Jesus’ teaching of far greater concerns – their souls. Of course Jesus will care for their bodies, hasn’t He repeatedly shown them so?
So often I too am caught up with making sure my temporal needs are met, and neglecting the needs of my soul – nourishment in God’s Word, exercise in prayer, and training in discernment and wisdom. It becomes more important to me that my meals are made, chores are done, or my body is rested than that my soul is nurtured.
How many times Jesus must say to me, as he did to the disciples, “O you of little faith! Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember? How is it that you fail to understand?”
…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all [food, drink, clothing]. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Thank the Lord for His compassion and grace for forgetful, dense sinners such as I! May we have faith to believe in His promises to care for us, that we may focus on obeying Him in caring for our souls.
My mind is a bucket without a bottom…
always at the gospel-well but never holding water…
My memory has no retention,
so I forget easily the lessons learned,
and thy truths seep away.
Give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace.
– “Paradoxes,” Valley of Vision