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.