Jesus had a way of using everyday, ordinary circumstances to teach his disciples powerful lessons about the kingdom of heaven. One of Jesus’ favorite metaphors for the word of God was bread, a daily source of sustenance for most people in the first century and an emblem of God’s physical presence in his holy temple. After the Pharisees and Sadducees had asked him for a sign to verify his deity, Jesus attempted to get his disciples back on track with a warning. He told them, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15). Leaven was used to make bread rise and was a symbol of evil and corruption in the time of Jesus’ ministry. “The metaphor includes the idea of a tiny amount of leaven being able to ferment a large amount of dough. In this context it refers to the evil disposition of both the Pharisees and Herod Antipas” (note on Mark 8:15). Unfortunately, his disciples missed the point Jesus was trying to make because they were focused on the fact that they had forgotten to take bread with them when they got into their ship and departed for Bethsaida (Mark 8:14). In response to Jesus’ statement, Mark tells us, “And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread” (Mark 8:16).
The Greek word that is translated reasoned, dialogizomai (dee-al-og-id’-zom-ahee) means “to reakon thoroughly that is (generally) to deliberate (by reflection or discussion)” (1260). As his disciples discussed among themselves what he meant by “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mark 8:15), Jesus tried again to get their attention, this time with a question. He asked them, “Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17). Jesus went on to use the illustration of his supernatural provision of bread and asked, “Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?” (Mark 8:18-21). The Greek word that is translated understand, suniemi (soon-ee’-ay-mee) means “to put together that is (mentally) to comprehend” (4920). The Greek word suniemi is derived from the word sun (soon), a primary preposition denoting union; with or together that is by association, companionship, process, or resemblance (4862). The word sun often appears in the context of Jesus’ twelve disciples being “with him.” In other words, Jesus was questioning whether or not his disciples had learned anything from him during the time that they had been together, probably around 1-2 years at this point in time.
The reason Jesus’ disciples didn’t comprehend what he was saying to them was most likely because everything he said came across to them as fragments, unrelated pieces of information that they were unable to piece together and make sense of. It was like they had ADHD (attention deficit disorder) which caused them to constantly be distracted when Jesus talked to them. Looking at his illustration of the basket of fragments that were taken up after the groups of 5,000 and 4,000 people were fed, it is possible that Jesus was telling his disciples that the fragments or bits of information he was giving them while they were with him needed to be collected and saved for later. Another way of looking at it would be that the fragments of bread represented bite size pieces of spiritual nourishment that had to be kept with the disciples at all times so that they wouldn’t be tempted to feast on the leavened bread or teaching of the Pharisees. Jesus’ question, “have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17) was a type of spiritual diagnosis that was meant to alert his disciples to their compromised condition. As much as the disciples wanted to learn from Jesus and grow spiritually, they were unable to process some of the information he gave them. It wasn’t until later, after Jesus’ ministry was concluded, that the twelve apostles had time to really reason through or “reakon thoroughly that is (generally) to deliberate (by reflection or discussion)” (1260) everything Jesus had told them and make sense of it all.