Red Letter Year: 4/26

Matthew 16:1-12

16 One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.

He replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’  You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times! Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign, but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then Jesus left them and went away.

Later, after they crossed to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring any bread. “Watch out!” Jesus warned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “You have so little faith! Why are you arguing with each other about having no bread? Don’t you understand even yet? Don’t you remember the 5,000 I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of leftovers you picked up? 10 Or the 4,000 I fed with seven loaves, and the large baskets of leftovers you picked up? 11 Why can’t you understand that I’m not talking about bread? So again I say, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’”

12 Then at last they understood that he wasn’t speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.


If it seems like we just read this demand for a sign passage, we sort of did. This is very similar to Matt. 12.38ff. What I find interesting here is the red sky folk wisdom, which is a very handy example of the importance of interpretation. The same exact thing (observing a red sky) occurring at different times can mean something very different, in this case the exact opposite. Jesus is not introducing a new method of interpretation here, he is just pointing out that we all engage in nuanced interpretation. But we can be quite stubborn we want to be, setting reasonableness aside and insisting on something that gets us out of our interpretive responsibility. Since we’ve already given up being reasonable and charitable, what we insist on when we act like that is the impossible. We want proof, but there is no amount of proof we would accept as true. They didn’t need another sign. They needed to pay attention to the signs they were already seeing. Matthew calls them deceptive. They cynically ask for a sign, knowing full well that same cynicism would reject any sign offered. Jesus refuses to play their game and compares their cynicism to yeast. It spreads like yeast and takes over any host. Unlike yeast, it does not produce nourishing bread but deadly poison. So we must beware. And what is the protection against that poisonous yeast? Another sign? No, that just cycles us back around. The only protection is memory. Remember what Jesus has done. Remember  Jesus healing you. Remember  Jesus feeding you. Remember  Jesus setting you free. And then leave space for others to interpret the signs in their lives as the Holy Spirit leads and they see fit. You may both be looking at a red sky, but that might mean something quite different for each of you. Reminds me of the end of John’s Gospel. Jesus was giving Peter instructions, and Peter motioned to John and said, “What about him?” I think the answer Jesus gave Peter is the same answer he gives to a lot of us a lot of the time: “What’s that to you? You follow me!”

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.