Tuesday, October 27
If you are like me, some things in life within your control are truly predictable. Whether I am barbequing my famous hamburgers outside my backdoor or driving with Debbie to Harvey’s – it is a “lock” that I will have only mustard and 4 slices of dill pickles on my burger. Hold everything else!
The Anglican lectionary for Tuesday, Oct. 27th designates a well-known reading from Luke 13:18-21, dealing with two short but powerful parables from our Lord that describe the kingdom of God using two food elements – mustard seeds and yeast. While I am a fan of mustard, I have not actually seen mustard seeds, although recalling Joanne Warman’s sermon of not too long ago, I understand that they are very, very tiny. I am also not a bread maker, but I have seen yeast and know of its key role in important role in baking. But let’s turn the page in our thinking here to how Jesus was using both ingredients as powerful similes to enlighten those listening to Him in this parable-rich portion of Luke’s gospel. In my NRSV version of the Bible, I am amazed how the two parables in today’s reading, a mere eighty-three words in total, are so succinctly presented by our Lord to teach his original listeners, and indeed us today, about how to think about God’s kingdom.
In Jesus’ day, sinapis nigra or “black mustard” was considered a shrub that commonly grew to a height of four feet, but on occasion could sprout to a tree-like height of twelve-to-fifteen feet. The emphasis here is on the transition from the planting of something (i.e. the Word of God) that yields something of substantial size (i.e. a world-wide community of faith). From a rag-tag group of disciples who answered Jesus’ call to “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), the Pew Research Centre (2015) estimated that there were 2.3 billion Christians of all ages living in the world.
In today’s Gospel reading, the planted seed did become a tree. The tree is a symbolic “connection” between Heaven and Earth found in several Old Testament references including Ezekiel 17:23. The branches of this tree in Luke’s gospel account allowed the birds of the air to build nests. There have been various interpretations of the meaning of the birds here – some not so flattering. However, I tend to align my interpretation of these nesting birds to those groups of believers – sometimes described as nations, both ancient and modern – in the Kingdom of God and followers of Christ. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world today – a staggering number of nests requiring a substantial number of branches – all an outgrowth or a tiny mustard seed.
On the heels of this parable, Jesus tells his followers another story of how they may consider the Kingdom of God – to be like leaven or yeast (Luke 24:20-21). Here again, we see the dynamic transition of something small to a much larger entity. Dr. Ralph Wilson (2020) reminds us that in Jesus’ day, women would save a little bit of one day’s dough, and keep it moist until the next morning when they would mix it into the dough for next day’s bread. As the yeast began to metabolize the sugars in the dough, it formed carbon dioxide that puffed into tiny gas pockets all throughout 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. And as the bread rises, the size increases many-fold. The tiny lump of yeast produces a large loaf of bread. Again, we see Jesus’ reference to the Kingdom of God transitioning from small beginnings to large endings.
The late American theologian James Montgomery Boice has left us five things in the Parable of the Leaven to think about the working out of the Kingdom of God in today’s world. our present age. Each of these lessons stems from the nature of yeast.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.