Scripture: He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:33 ESV
[Click here to read the entire chapter.]
Observation: This parable marks the fourth and last spoken to the crowd. Reemphasizing the key points of his Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus once again challenges his fellow Israelites’ preconceived notion of how the messianic kingdom would unfold. Using the imagery of yeast (a jarring metaphor given its association with evil and prohibition during the Passover celebration), Jesus again draws the parallel of his kingdom’s three-pronged expansion:
- minuscule beginning,
- hidden to the unobservant eye, and
- yet promoting fast growth.
As leaven in Scripture symbolized disintegration and corruption (Exodus 12:8, 15-20; Leviticus 7:13; 23:15-18), Jesus also applies these parasitic fungi from his creation to the corrupt religious leaders and Herod (Matthew 16:1-12; Mark 8:11-21; Luke 12:1-3). Still, yeast served a good purpose in raising dough for baking as a staple of sustenance for Israel, which on two occasions fed the multitudes (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-38; Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-9; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). And Jesus, identifying with the miraculous mana that descended from heaven to sustain God’s people, called himself The Bread of Life (John 6:22-59).
Of note, this diametric association in Scripture of an image as both good and evil, while not prevalent, occurs occasionally. Consider how John calls Jesus the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5), and Peter describes Satan as a lion (1 Peter 5:8).
Takeaway: Theologians D. A. Carson (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, p. 319) and Michael Wilkins (NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, p. 484) suggest that there is one crucial distinction between The Parables of the Mustard Seed and Leaven. The mustard seed implies extensive growth, while yeast describes intensive transformation, and yeast permeates, producing an inevitable effect despite its small quantity. Otherwise, Carson and Wilkins contend that both parables coincide, particularly regarding their expansion (quietly and from small beginnings) and active secrecy (not fully observable). And Wilkins adds that kingdom growth begins with an inner transformation of the heart.
Our takeaway? As I conclude in last Friday’s Daily Focus regarding The Parable of the Mustard Seed (click here to read it), “it begins and ends with Christ. And being grafted into Christ, we share in his glorious, mysterious kingdom growth that starts small but is unstoppable, spreading shalom security and rest in and through us to those around us.” Additionally, the above parable nuances that kingdom growth takes its shape in us with an intensive inner transformation of our hearts. How? We cooperate with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, who transforms our minds so that we no longer conform to the patterns of this world but learn and submit to our Father’s good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). And we obey his Son’s commands spurred by our maturing love for him (John 14:23-24).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who inaugurated his kingdom of heaven, and for your Holy Spirit, who grows his kingdom in our hearts. Yet, we struggle to be good citizens and often desire to follow the patterns of this world over that of your perfect and pleasing will. So would you please help us to cooperate with the sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit, who transforms our minds and hearts to better love and obey you and your Son? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling