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Yeast

By Paul Lewellan



The Parable of the Yeast is less familiar than most of the others—the mustard seed, the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the lost sheep—and it is deceptively simple. Jesus taught, “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” (Matthew 13:33, NRSV).

In addition to appearing in Matthew, the parable is also found in Luke 13:20-21. Jesus’s intent was to inform the people gathered (and by implication us) about the nature of God’s kingdom. This raises the question, what is yeast like?

The makers of Red Star Yeast provide us with a variety of useful facts. For example, yeast is a single-celled organism so small that the tiny 0.25 ounce packets of dry yeast you pick up in the grocery store contain billions of healthy cells. Billions.

These cells get their energy by digesting various forms of sugar including maltose which comes from the starch in flour. This process leads to two by-products, ethyl alcohol (which results in distinctive aroma and flavor) and carbon dioxide (bubbles) which causes the bread to rise.

Since packaged yeast and supermarkets hadn’t been invented at the time of Jesus, the woman in the parable uses leaven instead, a raw dough-like medium deliberately held back from the last time bread was made.

Yeast (including leaven) is referenced 58 times in the bible, but in most of these instances the reference is negative. Yeast is often compared to evil, but that’s not true in this parable. The growth rising from the yeast is praised.

I suggest there are four ways the Kingdom of God is like yeast:


  1. God’s work often goes unnoticed. The work may include the cans dropped off at a food pantry or a book placed in a Little Free Library. God’s work may be an invitation to coffee to a friend who is struggling. It might be a kind word to a student who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the class.

  2. God’s work is humble. When I think of people who have had the greatest impact on my life and my faith, without exception, they have been humble: my ninth grade confirmation teacher, pastors Ron Mohr and Pat Bell, Jacque McCoy my anti-racist team training partner. Each nurtured and challenged my faith. None of them pretended to know all the answers.

  3. God’s work affects every part of our lives. Just as the tiny yeast cells permeate the entire loaf, so too God’s work permeates our lives: our jobs, our relationship with others, our free time. During the fifty years I taught, I dealt with thousands of students, conscious of God working beside me.

  4. God’s work is deliberate. The woman in the parable saved leaven from the last time she made bread so that the yeast in it could produce the next loaves. God’s work requires us to care for what has been given, to plan for the future, and share the fruits of that work with others. There is nothing miraculous about ministry. It is as intentional as a church bulletin, and as loving as cookies provided during coffee after a service.


Different translations of the parable offer another insight, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13: 33, NIV). Sixty pounds is a lot of flour! The Message translation says dozens of loaves are produced. In other words, the woman doing God’s work is not a casual baker producing tea rolls for supper. Her efforts and her tiny bit of leaven will feed a crowd. Think about it. How might we do the same?



 

Paul Lewellan retired from education after fifty years of teaching. He lives and gardens on the banks of the Mississippi River with his wife Pamela, his Shi Tzu Mannie, and their ginger tabby Sunny. He has recently published fiction in New Croton Review, Clay Jar Review, True Chili, Blood and Bourbon, Jupiter Review, and Holy Flea Lit. Although he doesn't believe life begins at 74, it does get more interesting.

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