5 And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.This little bit always puzzled me. I just didn’t understand how Christ would explain His beware-the-Pharisee’s-leaven speech by referring to the miracle of feeding the five thousand and the leftovers that they collected afterwards.
6 ¶ Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.
8 Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?
9 Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
10 Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?
12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. (Matthew 16:5-12)
So I went back to the beginning of this story and thought about why Christ may have said those words in the first place. It seemed to have arisen over the apostle’s realization that they had forgotten to take bread. (I don’t know whether this meant the apostles had forgotten to eat or whether the apostles had forgotten to pack their lunch.) But it suddenly occurred to me that Christ tended to use ordinary happenings to teach important principles and that this might be one of those cases. He wouldn’t have said what He did if there hadn’t been an important idea to impress upon the apostles.
The circumstance was that the apostles were hungry. I think Christ knew that there were different kinds of hunger besides physical hunger. He knew that the apostles would have times when they were spiritually hungry as well. It is hard for us to imagine that apostles could be spiritually hungry, but we have to remember Christ’s words elsewhere: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). This indicates that the apostles, by virtue of their character, were destined to experience this hunger very often.
Hungry people have to get food somewhere. But where? “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” Christ wanted to make sure that the apostles didn’t go to any old source for spiritual nourishment, particularly the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had blunted the effect of the law of Moses through their corrupted traditions. That source was tainted.
Of course the apostles were thinking with their stomachs and so Christ’s words seemed strange to them. They figured He was a little irritated that they hadn’t brought bread with them in the first place. If they perceived Christ’s spiritual message even dimly, they probably thought He just meant that they should make sure to always be spiritually full.
I realized that Christ knew it was impossible to be spiritually full all the time, and He wouldn’t warn them away from the doctrine of the Pharisees and Saducees without giving them a better alternative. This is why He reminded them of the miracle of feeding the five thousand. Just like the food to feed all those people was produced miraculously—essentially coming down from heaven like manna—nourishing doctrine would come to them from heaven right when they needed it. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). That fullness would come through revelation and inspiration. They were to depend on God to fill them with doctrine.