How Many Baskets?
We live in a culture that demands proof for any claims that are made. Perhaps this is because with unlimited and immediate access to all manner of factual information, we believe that any claim must be demonstrable with only a few clicks and a quick search. However, this mentality has a hard time dealing with statements of truth that are not limited to collected data points. Further, this kind of ignorance can lead to unbelief because it makes us the arbiters of truth as we examine all of the facts. This is not to say that a healthy dose of skepticism is not a valuable trait, because we can be harmed through gullibility, but we can see that some things are true, even in the absence of cold, hard, facts.
When Jesus addressed this mentality, He not only diagnosed it as an attitude problem, but an infectious one at that. Matthew 16:1-12 records an incident that Jesus used as a teaching opportunity for His disciples. In the account, Jesus addressed the issue of a faith that is lacking, both in large ways, and in small ways as well.
In the first part of the account (Matthew 16:1-4), the the Jewish religious leaders came to Jesus demanding a sign from heaven. Jesus responded by using the “sign from heaven” phrase as a way to talk about seeing the state of the world around them and being able to make the necessary preparations. “When it is evening, you say, ‘[It will be] fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘[There will be] a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot [discern] the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2-3) The Pharisees and Sadducees had failed to realize the destruction of their whole way of life was imminent, and they were not repenting. The only “sign” they were going to get was “the sign of Jonah” which had two meanings. Jonah warned of impending destruction, and was also three days in the “deep,” just as Jesus was warning them, and would remain three days in the grave.
However, Jesus’ disciples also were in danger of being influenced by this way of thinking. “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6) When the disciples misunderstood Jesus’ comment, they assumed He was rebuking them for failing to prepare and bring bread along for the trip. He rebuked them, He used a particular name for them (ὀλιγόπιστοι - oligopistoi, #3640) that is normally translated, “you of little faith.” Their concern for the temporary and physical was a sign of problems in their faith. As a reminder, He asked them, “how many baskets” (Matthew 16:9-10, cf. Mark 8:19-20) of leftovers they had picked up when He fed the five thousand and the seven thousand.
When we ask God to give us a special sign, it is the result of a faith problem, because we are closing our eyes to the things He has already shown us. When we ignore the important spiritual concerns for the fleshly and temporary, it is the result of a faith problem because we are forgetting what He has already done for us. Let us never be an “evil and adulterous generation” or be “of little faith.”