The Demand for a Sign
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation." And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.
The Yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod
Now they had forgotten to bring bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." And they discussed it with one another, saying, "We have no bread." And being aware of it, Jesus said to them, "Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" They said to him, "Twelve." "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?" And they said to him, "Seven." And he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?
Theophylact - After that our Lord had worked the miracle of the loaves, He immediately retires into another spot, lest on account of the miracle, the multitudes should take Him to make Him a king. Wherefore it is said, "And straightway He entered into a ship with His disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha."
Augustine, de Con. Evan., 2, 51 - Now in Matthew we read that He entered into the parts of Magdala. But we cannot doubt that it is the same place under another name; for several manuscripts even of Saint Mark have only Magdala.
It goes on, "And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with Him, seeking of Him a sign from heaven, tempting Him."
Bede, in Marc., 2, 33 - The Pharisees, then, seek a sign from heaven, that He, Who had for the second time fed many thousands of men with a few loaves of bread, should now, after the example of Moses, refresh the whole nation in the last time with manna sent down from heaven, and dispersed amongst them all.
Theophylact - Or they seek for a sign from heaven, that is, they wish Him to make the sun and moon stand still, to bring down hail, and change the atmosphere; for they thought that He could not perform miracles from heaven, but could only in Beelzebub perform a sign on earth.
Bede - When, as related above, He was about to refresh the believing multitude, He gave thanks, so now, on account of the foolish petition of the Pharisees, He groans; because, bearing about with Him the feelings of human nature, as He rejoices over the salvation of men, so He grieves over their errors.
Wherefore it goes on, "And He groaned in spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, If a sign shall be given to this generation."
That is, no sign shall be given; as it is written in the Psalms, "I have sworn once by my holiness, if I shall fail David," [Psalm 80:36] that is, I will not fail David.
Augustine - Let no one, however, be perplexed that the answer which Mark says was given to them, when they sought a sign from heaven, is not the same as that which Matthew relates, namely, that concerning Jonah. He says that the Lord's answer was, that no sign should be given to it; by which we must understand such an one as they asked for, that is, one from heaven; but he has omitted to say, what Matthew has related.
Theophylact - Now, the reason why the Lord did not listen to them was, that the time of signs from heaven had not arrived, that is, the time of the second Advent, when the powers of the heaven shall be shaken, and the moon shall not give her light. But in the time of the first Advent, all things are full of mercy, and such things do not take place.
Bede - For a sign from heaven was not to be given to a generation of men, who tempted the Lord; but to a generation of men seeking the Lord, He shews a sign from heaven, when in the sight of the Apostles He ascended into heaven.
It goes on, "And He left them, and entering into a ship again, He departed to the other side." Theophylact: The Lord indeed quits the Pharisees, as men uncorrected; for where there is a hope of correction, there it is right to remain; but where the evil is incorrigible, we should go away.
There follows: "Now they had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf."
Bede - Some may ask, how they had no bread, when they had filled seven baskets just before they embarked in the ship. But Scripture relates that they had forgotten to take them with them, which is a proof how little care they had for the flesh in other things, since in their eagerness to follow the Lord, even the necessity of refreshing their bodies had escaped from their mind.
Theophylact - By a special providence also the disciples forgot to take bread, that they might be blamed by Christ, and thus become better, and arrive at a knowledge of Christ's power. For it goes on, "And He charged them, saying, Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod."
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - Matthew says, "of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees;" Luke, however, of the Pharisees only. All three, therefore, name the Pharisees, as being the most important of them, but Matthew and Mark have each mentioned one of the secondary sects; and fitly has Mark added "of Herod," as a supplement to Matthew's narrative, in which they were left out.
But in saying this, He by degrees brings the disciples to understanding and faith.
Theophylact - He means by leaven their hurtful and corrupt doctrine, full of the old malice, for the Herodians were the teachers, who said that Herod was the Christ.
Bede - Or, the leaven of the Pharisees is making the decrees of the divine law inferior to the traditions of men, preaching the law in word, attacking it in deed, tempting the Lord, and disbelieving His doctrine and His works; but the leaven of Herod is adultery, murder, rash swearing, a pretence of religion, hatred to Christ and His forerunner.
Theophylact - But the disciples themselves thought that the Lord spoke of the leaven of bread. Wherefore it goes on, "And they reasoned amongst themselves, saying, it is because we have no bread;" and this they said, as not understanding the power of Christ, who could make bread out of nothing; wherefore the Lord reproves them.
For there follows: "And when Jesus knew it, He said unto them, Why reason ye because ye have no bread?"
Bede - Taking occasion then from the precept, which He had commanded, saying, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod," our Saviour teaches them what was the meaning of the five and the seven loaves, concerning which He adds, "And do ye not remember, when I brake the five loaves amongst five thousand, and how many baskets full of fragments ye took up?"
For if the leaven mentioned above means perverse traditions, of course the food, with which the people of God was nourished, means the true doctrine.
- text taken from by Saint Thomas Aquinas, translated by William Whiston, 1842