First Mennonite Church
October 17, 2021
The Reign of God Is Like Hidden Yeast
Text: Matthew 13:31-35
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
Before Jesus started to use parables to illustrate and clarify his teaching about the kingdom of heaven, he had already used the phrase, “kingdom of heaven” over a dozen times. I wonder what must have gone through the minds of his disciples every time Jesus mentioned this phrase. They had their own vision of what a kingdom entails, power, royal figures, servants, pomp, etc. Therefore, with these parables, Jesus intended to clarify to his disciples the nature of the kingdom he was announcing and how it operated.
The parable of mustard seed and of the yeast are one-line parables, lacking details in them. Both of them highlight things unnatural and unexpected, yet also, the supernatural and surprising about the nature of the reign of God.
Jesus was clear about the size of the mustard seed. Yet, he said that when it grows, it becomes a big tree. Through this illustration, Jesus assured his disciples a surprising aspect about the reign of God. Although small and ordinary in its present form, it will have an amazingly large and expansive reach and presence. The image of a giant tree about the kingdom’s prominence, presence, and power draws from the Old Testament. Such images of gigantic trees representing power, expansive reach, and majesty are found in Daniel and Ezekiel. The kingdom heaven, says Jesus, will gain visibility over all other plants and will become the welcoming host to those seeking refuge and rest. In that sense, the reign of God, which is God’s presence, love, and righteousness is where humanity find security from all its fears and satisfaction to its deepest longings. That is why, as of now we can begin experiencing the benefit of God’s kingdom Jesus set into motion at his first coming. But the reign of God, as the proper conditions for humanity’s complete wellbeing, of a world where pain and death will be no more, where righteousness and peace will reign, where tears will be no more, where no one will go hungry or will live in fear, and where the purest intent of the will of God become second nature, will only be realized at the second coming of Jesus. The fullness of God’s reign will come when God crowns Jesus as the Lord of lords and King of kings. God’s reign was set in motion in motion at the first coming of Jesus, but it is yet to come in its fullness at his second coming. For now, the reign of God might be as small as a mustard seed.
Envisioning such a glorious kingdom must have been difficult for the disciples. The disciples must have found difficult to believe that Jesus’ marginal movement would swell, like a river breaking its banks. You see, they were following the son of Galilean carpenter who was an itinerant preacher. They were fully aware of how small and insignificant their group was compared to the established religious institution—with a temple, with a long-established ritual system, where priests had God-like power to determine who was in and who was out. Jesus on the other hand, was like a mere drop of fresh water in a thirsty desert. And although everything Jesus offered was life-giving, it was being rejected and greatly opposed. As for the disciples, they were simple people, fishermen, illiterate and poor. Their group was composed of tax-collectors and other misfits. Yet, the description Jesus was telling them about the final impact of his movement, was something beyond their wildest imagination. Yet, it will have a very small, humble, and seemingly insignificant beginning. The reign of God, which Jesus had ushered, was small like the mustard seed.
The following parable compares the reign of heaven like the yeast a woman “took and mixed” into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked through the dough. Again, there are some surprising aspects about this comparison with the reign of God. The character is a woman who was not a typical agent in rabbinical teaching. But the most disturbing aspect about this parable, at least to Jesus’ audience, was his use leaven in a positive light.
We know there are trigger words, depending on the audience. In a movie theater, the word “fire” is a trigger word likely to cause panic. To a liberal audience, “oil industry lobbyist” or “military-industry complex” are trigger words. To a conservative audience, words such as “big government” or “socialism” are trigger words. In a Jewish audience, pigs, Samaritans, and yeast would be trigger words. Leaven or yeast had a bad connotation in the mind of any practicing of Jew. Leaven connotes corruption, defilement, and uncleanliness. In other part of Jesus’ teaching, he warned his disciple against the “leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). Paul also uses leaven as a corrupting agent, calling the church to avoid it (1Cor. 5:6,7; Galatians 5:9).
Another surprising factor in this parable is what the woman does with the leaven. Many version say the woman “took and mixed” or “took and put into” three measures of flour. The word Jesus used is “enkrypto” in Matthew, and “krypto” in Luke’s version. The King James and ASB, have “the woman took and ‘hid’ in three measures of flour.” It sounds as if the woman did something others were not aware of. The hiding of the yeast and its thorough transformation of the entire lump of dough are to what Jesus compares to the kingdom of heaven. It is the “taking, hiding of the leaven, and the leaven corrupting the dough” that likens the reign of God.
The experts say, that when the yeast begins to metabolize the sugars in the dough, it forms carbon dioxide that puffs into tiny gas pockets all through the dough. The gas can’t escape because of the elastic gluten in the flour, so these pockets of gas stay in the loaf. When the loaf finally goes into the oven, the gas expands even more as the temperature rises, until the dough finally bakes, holding the shape of those tiny gas pockets, now filled with air.
I have never baked bread/rolls before, but I did yesterday. Look at the result of what yeast does when you bake. The roll looks appetizing; it smells delicious. But look at this odd-looking roll. It is from the same mix of ingredients, but without yeast. It is hard, unappetizing!
The transforming agents of yeast in dough is what the kingdom of God is in the world. The yeast changes, the otherwise brick-like chunk of insipid and unappetizing hard baked dough. However, the air-pockets infused by the yeast in the bread and the aroma of it are powerful to awaken the appetite and make our mouths to water at the very look and smell of it.
These parables show us that the church is not the mustard seed that has grown or grows into a big garden tree nor is the yeast hidden in the large amount of flour. The mustard seed and the yeast are everything God gave the world with the coming of Jesus. In the presence, grace, and righteousness of God, as revealed by Jesus, we find hope, joy, and peace. In God’s promises and presence, we find assurance for the souls and we quench our longings. Therefore, we are not the mustard tree, but are simply the birds that have found shelter and rest in its branches.
We are not the yeast in the world, but we might be the little air pockets transforming the shape and taste of the insipid and ugly-looking lump of dough. The goodness, power, and righteousness of God in us, like the yeast hidden in the dough, forces us to disrupt the status quo of things. The reign of God has infused into our lives something that makes us to be different from the unleavened lump. Therefore, when you share with those who are in need, you break away from the staleness and selfishness that characterize those who do not care for the needy. When you forgive and take in the hurt, you go against the norm of those who prefer to retaliate and want to go “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” When you show sympathy and empathy to the unfortunate, you become like a ray of light in a dark room. There are many who only lament for themselves and about everything that doesn’t go their way. When you give Christ your complete allegiance, you rise above the fray where many bow down to all kinds of idols, whether these are celebrities, institutions, or name-brands. When you set apart time to come to worship God, you tell the world, your life belongs to God. All other things and activities don’t have the first place in your life.
We are not the yeast, but we might be the aroma of Christ and sign-posts of the reign of God in the world. We live at a time where strong forces try to pull us into their swirl. We live in a world where greed, distrust, and impatience reign. But as for you and me, the Spirit of God produces in us, love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control, and all the other qualities the Spirit gives. To us have been given the power to exude the aroma of Christ in a world that stinks of death. The reign of God has started to operate in you and me, like the yeast hidden in batch of dough. However, we must ask ourselves, has God’s rule reached every aspect of my life? Are my priorities been totally shaped by God’s will? Do I love everyone without condition?
Let us allow God’s yeast to reach every aspect of our lives. We are the Lord’s aroma of life, both for those who are save and to those who are not. May the Lord continue to infuse in us his transforming power. Amen!