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And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and [hid] in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
I’ve been baking sourdough bread lately. To do this, I had to start by cultivating my own “starter,” which is what you use instead of a packet of yeast. The starter is a miracle, really. Wild yeast exists in my own home, floating around in the air. If I mix a some flour and water into goo like a child, leave it out on top of the fridge like a slob… the yeast finds its home there, and after some time a bubbly, smelly substance is created. It makes dough rise.
The first time I did this, it felt like a revelation. I brought one of the loaves I made to work, and set it on the common table. People ooh-ed and ahh-ed, just like I hoped they would. “I made my own starter,” I proclaimed. But the truth is, the starter made itself. It was a gift, more than an effort. A grace more than an accomplishment.
I remembered Jesus’ parable, and wondered if I’d tapped into some kind of ancient wisdom that my modern yeast-packet-buying friends can’t fathom. The kingdom of God is unearned. The kingdom of God grows from nothing. The kingdom of God nourishes.
But, then I actually read the Bible. I realized I’m still a disciple in the dark. Jesus, ever mysterious, doesn’t actually point to those lessons. The passage is… weird.
First, if you check other times Scripture talks about yeast, it’s usually in reference to something corrupt (e.g. “the yeast of the Pharisees”). The Kingdom of God is powerful (like corruption?).
Second, the Greek doesn’t say that the yeast is mixed, it says the yeast is hidden. It’s the same root word as “conceal.” The Kingdom of God is covert, secret (and up to something?).
And then there’s this: the amount of flour mentioned here would have shocked listeners — “three measures” would be enough to feed 150 people. And, weirdly, the same measurement that Abraham demanded Sarah use to make cakes when three strangers approached their tent. The kingdom of God is meant for a lot more folks than just you and me (and a ridiculous amount of work for the women?).
Scripture is weird. This I know to be true.
I fed my starter again this morning, hoping to see frothy bubbles when I come home from the office. I was remembering a headline I’d read: thousands of asylum-seeking children in U.S. detention centers have reported being sexually abused there — either by the staff, or because of neglect by staff. I was remembering a young man in my community with DACA status — a promise from the government that he would not be deported — who is in detention today, awaiting removal to a country he’s hardly known. I was remembering friends in California who are organizing housing for immigrant parents who were deported after their babies were taken from them, “lost” by the government, found by the hard work of a non-profit legal team. Ready to fight to be a family again. Grasping hope with cramped fingers.
I was thinking of Sarah, mixing cakes for 150 people when only three had shown up at her door.
I was thinking of a woman who was up to something, hiding yeast in the dough, keeping a secret, the only one who knew the miracle it would create.
I was thinking of Jesus, who saw people’s pain. Who said things people didn’t want to hear. Who healed, who annoyed. Who proclaimed a kingdom that was already here.
I’ll be turning this one over and over in my head as these loaves emerge from my oven. “Given for you.” I’ll be wondering about the strangers approaching my tent — awaiting welcome, cakes for a crowd. I’ll be confused by this mysterious Jesus, who spoke so strangely about a Kingdom that’s already come, hidden in plain sight. Up to something.