Do you ever make bread?
I do sometimes but never use more than about 3lb of flour at a time. The focus today in my women of the gospels series is the woman in the shortest of Jesus’ stories about the kingdom of heaven. It’s the woman who mixed leaven (or yeast) into an enormous quantity of flour, far more than anyone could knead at one go and enough to make about 100 good sized loaves. The parable is one of several short stories used by Jesus to answers his own question, what is the kingdom of heaven like? His answers are surprising, unexpected pictures.
Here’s Matthew’s version:
“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.’ “” Mat. 13: 33
And here’s Luke’s version
“And again he said,
‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’”" Luke 13; 20 – 21
There is controversy over how to interpret this parable.
Some see it as a positive picture of a long slow process of transformation and growth. Others note that leaven (the old sour dough in which the yeast grows) is often used in the Bible as a symbol of impurity. At certain festivals every trace of yeast/leaven had to be removed from the house and only flat unleavened bread was made and eaten. So the yeast in this story could stand for corruption and the woman seen as deceitful for hiding it in the flour instead of getting rid of every bit. For the first hearers of this story, that is what they may have thought of first.
I prefer the positive interpretation, what do you think?
A tiny amount of yeast, unnoticed at first when mixed in with flour, works silently from within (like love) and produces transformation. Not much happens for a while. Then the dough rises as the yeast works, creating air bubbles. If you make bread by hand you’ll know that it is hard work spreading the yeast in thoroughly by kneading. 3 gallon measures of flour is about 80lb. With water added the weight would be about 100lb. There is comic exaggeration here – not even the strongest woman could knead that quantity of dough by hand in one batch. So is this a picture of God working with the materials of his creation? Mixing in what will create wonderful change, waiting patiently and working again and again, in hidden ways that one day will be fully revealed?
For further reflection
- How do you understand this story?
- Is it far-fetched to compare the yeast with social media communication, which can be used for bad (‘leaven’ of corruption) or good (‘leaven’ producing positive transformation?
- How can you use your social media activities to help bring change that will be good news?