I am constantly amazed how two people can read a passage in the Bible and get completely opposite meanings. Those of us who are Catholic will look at The Bread of Life discourse (John 6) and immediately recognize that Jesus is referring to the Eucharist. On the other hand, most non-Catholic Christians will interpret those verses differently and conclude that The Lord is speaking figuratively. In the gospel from today’s Mass (Mk 8:14-21), we see a similar situation develop.
Shortly after witnessing Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the four thousand, the disciples are cautioned to “guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They believe that Jesus is chastising them for neglecting to bring bread for the journey. Jesus reprimands them by saying, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend?” (Mk 8:17) In Matthew’s account of this story, Jesus is even clearer when He states, “How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread?” (Mt 16:11) When we read this story we think, “How could they be so stupid?”
For one thing, we have to remember that they didn’t have the benefit of 2000 years of consistent Church teaching. For another thing, they also did not yet posses the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism and strengthened at Confirmation. Considering that, we should “cut them some slack” for not comprehending this teaching. Therefore, can we conclude that those of us who were baptized and confirmed and who encounter Jesus regularly through the Eucharist and Sacred Scripture never make the same mistake?
The answer, of course, is “no”. We are all guilty of falling into the same trap of misinterpreting Scripture or misunderstanding Church teaching from time to time. In our case, it usually happens due to our pride or ignorance of Church teaching. The important thing is that we, like the disciples in this case, humbly submit ourselves to the teaching of Jesus Christ through His Catholic Church. Becoming familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church allows us to read the Bible through the eyes of the Church. If we have a difficult time with a Church teaching, take the time to research it further and pray for the gift of understanding.
Remembering these principles will keep us on the right track with The Lord and help us to understand His message, even when it’s difficult.