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The Parables of Jesus Part 8
Matthew 13:33-35, Luke 13:20-21 - The Kingdom is within our hearts, but it grows and affects the world, like a little yeast in a lot of flour
“He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open My mouth in parables;
I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.””
Matthew 13:33-35 NASB1995
“And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.””
Luke 13:20-21 NASB1995
This very short parable continues the long chapter of parables in Matthew 13 and it was also briefly discussed when I did the parables of Luke. At that time I used commentary that describes leaven as evil or corrupting influences on the church as it grows. But of course I have found additional resources since then that have different viewpoints about this short parable, just like the parable about the mustard seed.
So what is leaven? According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, leaven is defined as follows:
1 a: a substance (such as yeast) used to produce fermentation in dough or a liquid (in particular, sourdough)
1 b : a material (such as baking powder) used to produce a gas that lightens dough or batter
2 : something that modifies or lightens
Leaven or yeast is a staple in baking and fermentation of beers and wine, among other uses. Yeast is a microscopic single-cell fungi and certain species of yeast convert carbohydrates into sugars and alcohol and have been used for thousands of years in the making of breads, beers and wines (I’m getting a little hungry and thirsty just writing this!). Usually 1 teaspoon of dry yeast is needed for 1 pound of flour to create the proper bubbling, expansion and softening of the dough. The parable (in both versions) talks about 3 pecks of flour, an older dry volume measurement. According to my research for equivalent values, a peck is ~ 2 dry gallons, so Jesus talks about the small amount of leaven in 6 gallons of wheat (this is, if my math is correct, over 25 pounds of flour, as one cup of all-purpose flour weighs 4.25 ounces and there are 16 cups in a gallon). As you get older, math is harder!
The complexity of the yeasting process for wine and beer is beyond the scope of this devotional, which is not a tutorial on fermentation processes, but a little diversion is fun! Feast your eyes on this sourdough bread in the photo for a moment and visualize the mysterious processes that God gave us to create such wonderful sustenance! Sorry to those with gluten intolerance and I know that scientists have defined and modeled how yeast works, but once again, scientists, whether they like it or not, are only scribes writing down the physical laws of the Universe that He created.
So leaven in Biblical terms has been defined, characterized or used as a metaphor in several ways. This list shortens the information about leaven from Gotquestions.org; scripture links go the Blue Letter Bible:
The Israelites fleeing Egypt learned to rely on unleavened bread because leavened bread takes too long to rise (Exodus 12:39). The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) was instituted to celebrate that liberation.
Leaven has been characterized as representing sin or corruption. Mosaic law forbade the use of leavened bread in offerings. (Leviticus 2:11)
Jesus compared the false and hypocritical teachings of the Pharisees to leaven. (Matthew 16:6-12)
Paul warned the church at Corinth against tolerating sin in their midst, comparing it to leaven (1 Corinthians 5:1-8).
Finally, Jesus uses this symbol of leaven in this parable in this devotional to describe the Kingdom. The Kingdom gradually and secretly permeates society, affecting all sectors of human life.
Even the most ardent atheists would have to admit, if they actually had a moment of humility and introspection (I know how smug and prideful I was when I was away from faith), that the spiritual Kingdom of God brought by Jesus into our world has had a profound (and mostly positive) impact on the lives of humans and even the lives of His other creatures. But the secret and invisible contributions of the Kingdom are usually viewed negatively because of ignorance and the overwhelming instincts of humans to be radically individualized, wrapped in their own navel-gazing “truths”.
Precept Austin points to a great explanation of this parable in Gotquestions.org (links go to BibleRef).
In the Parable of the Leaven, we learn several things about the working of the kingdom in our present age. Each of these lessons stems from the nature of yeast.
First, the kingdom of God may have small beginnings, but it will increase. Yeast is microscopic in size, and only a little is kneaded into the dough. Yet, given time, the yeast will spread through all the dough. In the same way, Jesus’ domain started with twelve men in an obscure corner of Galilee, but it has spread throughout the world. The gospel makes progress.
Second, the kingdom of God exerts its influence from within, not from without. Yeast makes dough rise from within. God first changes the heart of a person, and that internal change has external manifestations. The gospel influence in a culture works the same way: Christians within a culture act as agents of change, slowly transforming that culture from within.
Third, the effect of the kingdom of God will be comprehensive. Just as yeast works until the dough has completely risen, the ultimate benefit of the kingdom of God will be worldwide (Psalm 72:19; Daniel 2:35). “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
Fourth, although the kingdom of God works invisibly, its effect is evident to all. Yeast does its job slowly, secretly and silently, but no one can deny its effect on bread. The same is true of the work of grace in our hearts.
The nature of yeast is to grow and to change whatever it contacts. When we accept Christ, His grace grows in our hearts and changes us from the inside out. As the gospel transforms lives, it exerts a pervasive influence in the world at large. As we “reflect the Lord’s glory, [we] are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
One other thing I included in the passage from Matthew are the verses about how Jesus fulfilled the words of prophecy in using parables to speak to the people. He knew that some would grasp the meaning immediately, others would ponder and study His words until they understood because they wanted to understand and yet others would shrug it off and accuse Him of speaking in riddles. He also used these devices more as opposition grew against Him. These things that He spoke in His ministry were “hidden in the foundations of the world”, but He brought those hidden things to life.
My next devotional examines a very short parable found in Matthew 13:44, the Hidden Treasure.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help me to grow with the leaven of the Kingdom of God, so that my heart is first influenced, then I act to bring those changes to whomever I contact, so that they can see the glory of your Kingdom and promises. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org