Have you ever been indicted for being obtuse? To be obtuse is to be thick-headed, unaware, imperceptive, or slow on the uptake. Husbands are often this way when their wife is dropping hints about an upcoming anniversary or special event… or some home repair that needs attention. Wives can be this way when the husband is giving off “romantic” signals that somehow are not getting through. All of us are obtuse at times… nobody “gets it” all the time.
The disciples could be very obtuse. One such time was when Jesus fed the 4,000. We are all familiar with the episode of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in Matthew 14. But not too long after doing that, Jesus also fed the 4,000 in Mt 15. Some are confused and morph them into one but the text of Matthew is very clear that these were two separate events.
Now, one would think that after feeding some 5,000 people only a short time before, the disciples would have no questions about how the Lord was going to do this. Nonetheless, when Jesus commanded them to give the crowd of 4,000 something to eat, their response was just like it had been when Jesus suggested feeding the 5,000. They said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” Come on! They had seen Jesus multiply the bread and fish to feed the 5,000. Now, they were questioning again, where the food would come from? Obtuse!
Immediately following this, the disciples had “forgotten to bring any bread” on their journey across the lake. Upon reaching the other side, Jesus warns his disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (16:6) having just had a run in with them in the previous paragraph (16:1-4). They thought he was upbraiding them for failing to bring bread with them. He wasn’t. He did however upbraid them for their lack of faith in as much as he had produced enough bread for 5,000 on one occasion and enough for 4,000 on a subsequent occasion. At that point, how much faith would be necessary to believe that Jesus could have produced any amount of bread they needed? Here Jesus was warning them against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees; that was the leaven. Obtuse!
Immediately after they “didn’t get it” concerning the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees, they do get it about something even more important; the subject of who Jesus was. In 16:13-20 we read of Peter’s great confession in which he identifies Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. This was a moment of great insight played out against the backdrop of their dullness of understanding in the previous paragraph.
Again, the disciples were like this. They could be as dull as a butter knife one moment and as sharp as a razor the next. For most of us, we can easily move between keen insight and obtuseness. But what was the determining factor in terms of the “disciples” getting it? Jesus tells us when he says to Peter, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”. The difference between insight and obtuseness is often the work of God through the Word and Spirit to give us essential insight in critical areas of our lives. In our natural condition, we are susceptible to misunderstanding, dullness, and error of evaluation. But when the Spirit of God guides us using the Word of God to inform us, the “insight” quotient goes way up.
Nobody “gets it” all the time. Even the most insightful in some areas will lack discernment in others. I just was in discussion with a pastor friend concerning this. He had a man in his church who had grown up in this church and whose father was an elder in the church. A few months ago, this man determined he was going to take his family to another church. They ended up going to a Catholic church. There could hardly be any decision he could make more lacking in discernment from a Protestant perspective. No matter how ecumenical you might be, you would have to admit the divergence between the two churches is vast. Yet, this man had shown genuine discernment in many other areas of life over the years. Obtuse.
The line between insight and obtuseness in essential areas is one that must be drawn by the Holy Spirit using the Word of God to guide us. Flesh and blood will not do. Our Father in heaven must give us that kind of insight. May God grant us insight and discernment in the essentials of life and faith.