Bible · faith

God’s Kingdom Is Like This

Just a thought about the Gospel reading set for today – Matthew chapter 13 verse 33:

33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a womAn took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

I have always understood this parable to be saying that God works through the small things, and that small things can have an influence far beyond their size. Hence the parable of the mustard seed as well as the yeast.

However, some scholars would disagree, based on the fact that virtually all the times that yeast in mentioned in the Bible it has a negative meaning. Yeast is usually portrayed as sin, having a harmful effect and tainting our lives. So at Passover, for example, the Jews had to eat unleavened bread to signify being kept pure and free from sin. If you carry this reasoning to the Gospel, as some commentators do, the interpretation of the parable is entirely different.

Anyway, I want to stick with yeast representing God’s activity, since the parable is saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is like …’ But I think we can learn from the fact that this is a very unusual use of yeast in scripture. Doesn’t Jesus often take something and give it a twist, or turn it completely upside down ? I think that’s what he’s doing here.

I think he’s saying effectively- ‘You all think of yeast representing sin, and how sin can get into someone’s life to spoil it. But … let’s suppose in this little parable the yeast stands for God’s activity, how much more will God be at work to bring about the transformation that we need in our lives.

In fact, the passage from St Paul’s letter to the church in Rome that is paired with this Gospel says something similar. ‘The Spirit helps us in our weakness … we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.’ (Romans chapter 8 verses 26,37)

And in Romans chapter 5, we read ‘if sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift.” (Romans 5:15)

To Jesus’ hearers the use of yeast as a picture of God at work would have made them listen because it went against what they had always thought. What brilliant storytelling !

Here’s a short video that some friends of ours have done to illustrate these ‘Parables of the Kingdom.’ As a family they have been doing a Lego video most weeks during lockdown. I think they are absolutely amazing. Enjoy.


Nine Beats

A few years ago, at the Greenbelt Festival,  I came across a group called the Nine Beats Collective
who were running some sessions based around the ancient wisdom of nine sayings of Jesus.
These sayings of Jesus all start with the word blessed – blessed are you when …
So I went to the sessions, and I bought a little book – The Ninefold Path – that contained some reflections and spiritual exercises, but it stayed on my bookshelf – that is until this week.
I had actually been thinking about the book last week sometime, and on Monday I decided to have a look at in my daily prayer time.  So I took the book, along with my Bible and my notebook and sat down to read.  First, I looked to see what my daily reading from the Bible was, and could hardly believe it when I saw that it was those exact same sayings of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel!
I just love it when that happens. Call it synchronicity if you like. It’s when God says something through the daily events of life.  It happens a lot actually if you look out for it.
That encouraged me to take The Ninefold Path book and look at it seriously.  So this week, I have been focusing on Beatitude no. 1 – Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Essentially this is saying that the most important thing that God is looking for in us is a willingness to let go of the idea that it’s all about our own efforts.  All that God has for us is gift. We simply have to see our poverty and need, and receive.
So each day this week, among other things, I’ve been asking myself:
What am I thankful for today ?
What do I need today ?
One of the the things I love about these sayings of Jesus is that they are so accessible.  You don’t need to be a religious (as in Churchy) person to benefit from them.  You don’t need a degree in theology.  You don’t even need to have much in the way of believing in God actually, just an openness to learn and receive. There’s wisdom here to help anyone in daily life.
You’re blessed when you’ve come to the end of your own resources. With less of you there is more of God and his way of living.

In a time of Coronavirus

We walked past the church today
the grass
usually neatly mown
but left to grow for weeks now
is full of colour
blood red poppies
growing where they will
We saw someone with a posh camera
he’s stopped and set it up on a tripod
to capture that moment
the grass is cut
and everything looks tidy and ordered once again
We walked past the church today
the door
usually open and inviting
has been closed for weeks now
the seeds of faith
now dispersed
growing where they will
I’m writing this with my posh fountain pen
in the A4 spiral notebook where I jot down ideas
to keep this memory alive
the doors open once more
and we go back inside.