And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” (Luke 13:20-21 NASB)
I have this weird drive to know how stuff works. It’s almost a mania with me. So, drinking coffee morphed into roasting it. Owning a firearm morphed into reloading ammunition. And then came this drive to discover how to make my favorite type of bread, sourdough. I couldn’t find a recipe to use in a bread machine that also used starter. So, I experimented and found one. Then I moved to an elevation of 4,000 feet and had to reinvent the recipe for “high altitude”. But I’ve always had a problem with sourdough starter.
Sourdough starter is somewhat like owning a pet; a needy, selfish, stinky, moody pet. I think “Bill the Cat” when I think of such pets; Garfield on the Adkin’s Diet. But the bread it produces is amazing. While in Alaska, I picked up a sourdough starter “kit” with a book on the history of the stuff. In it I learned something I’d never really imagined. Sourdough starter became popular because it was easy to use and therefore made transporting and keeping yeast very easy. Yeast, as it turns out, is free-floating through the air – everywhere. I doubted this, but went through their process for making starter, and it worked! Here in the high desert of Nevada I found the air full of yeast! Well, okay, not full exactly, but it is there nonetheless.
Now, about this “yeast” or “leaven” referred to in this oblique obfuscating parable; it literally refers to a lump of dough already full of yeast. It’s how the ancients kept their yeast ready to go without having to wait for “air-yeast” to find its way into the dough. That’s right, it was a dough “starter” or “sponge”. Which makes sense because they couldn’t go down to the local supermarket and get a packet of bread yeast. They had to have some way to control the leavening process, and their method was what we call a starter. Do any of you remember the “Friendship Bread” craze from the 80’s and 90’s? It’s like that, but without the vast amounts of sugar.
So, the Kingdom of God is like this sourdough starter…I’m having trouble not still thinking of Bill the Cat. It’s like this starter. How? The qualities of the Kingdom of God spread. The woman added the leaven to 3 measures of flour and it all became leavened. The qualities spread to whatever was added to it. It shares it’s qualities with those it comes into contact. Honestly, I’m not sure how else to understand this. It’s not an exhaustive theological work by Jesus expounding the qualities of Life with our Creator, it’s simply a statement that this Kingdom He has been proclaiming shares its qualities with those with whom it comes into contact.
Well, wonderful for the Kingdom. Way to go, sharing is so important, what a wonderful thing for it to do…except that if I’m part of this Kingdom, sharing the duties of serving the King (what Kingdom doesn’t have a King?), then I’m sharing my qualities. I’m part of what is being shared, part of the effect. And I suppose the question I need to ask myself (perhaps you could ask yourself as well), am I sharing good qualities or bad ones? And yes, that can happen.
Making bread with a starter is actually pretty cool. But like all bread making, rules have to be followed. And like baking or cooking in general, things that aren’t supposed to be ingredients can get into a dish. So, while the effect of “rising” still occurs, if I’m also adding in some of my rebellious qualities, the bread may look fine, but taste really bad. I once forgot salt. NEVER do that. I once added too much salt. Yeah, bad idea as well. Salt ended up being the thing I had to really adjust more than any other ingredient to get my recipe right. I got the flour pretty quickly, the starter, was basically the same, the other things like baking soda and so on were also fairly easy. Salt was my downfall for so long.
So, what am I, as part of my Master’s Kingdom, adding to the lives of those around me? Do they smell and enjoy the aroma of my Master’s presence? Or does my odor still permeate a bit too far? The beautiful thing is that the closer I get to my Master, the less of me there is to influence those around me, and the more of Him they see. The goal is to be transformed into His image. But I have to be transformed. I don’t do it, He does. I just get close to Him so He can. He won’t grab me and force me to be anything.
What do you learn from this obscure parable?
Super cool commentary on the starter the Israelites had…I did not know that there was yeast found naturally in the air. Interesting!
So you have me intrigued once more Matt…the high desert of Nevada. This is going to sound really odd, but I am a huge X-Files fan. Do you live anywhere near Area 51 or Rachel? Because I would totally live there if I could haha!
Btw sourdough is fantastic.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t. I live outside of Reno, on the edge of oblivion. Beyond me are the wilds of ancient gold and silver mines, ghost towns, dinosaur remains, and ruins along the Pony Express route. No extraterrestrials here, but many anticipating a new terrestrial existence 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s a good way to put it, new terrestrial existence 😉 Just another replacement for Living Water to purchase at Bunyan’s Vanity Fair.
Man, I know a lot of people would say that is a highly undesirable place to be. What you just described is like an Eden to me haha. Goldfield seems like a really interesting ghost town. Plus all the beauty you just described of the abandoned mines. I bet there’s some good spelunking opportunities?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes, but also very dangerous. But yes!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hey, Matt, I came across an interesting similarity between these two similes, the parable of the mustard seed and the yeast.
So, in the parable of the mustard seed, in the Greek, to nest: kataskēnoō – means to rest, settle or abide. In the parable of the yeast, to hide: enkryptō – means to conceal in or intermix. When I put the two together, it seems to me Jesus is saying two things.
First, he is saying both the seed and the yeast are ubiquitous – though small things, they create or permeate something so expansive it cannot be counted. How do you count the individual branches, offshoots, on the mustard tree? How do you count the ways the yeast has infused bread with plumpness, airiness, aroma and the first taste of a warm slice?
Second, he tells us each accommodates an invitation and indwelling – the first of providing safety and nourishment to creatures of the air and land; the second with the process of the kneading and baking, a family gathering, hosting and sharing, and the memories of fragrance, flavor, conversation and community.
Invitation, indwelling; safety, nourishment; hosting, sharing, conversation, community. These all equal the Gospel.
Isn’t the Gospel more about our relationship to God than about our relationship to each other? Didn’t Jesus also say that He came to bring “division”? Luke 12:51 through 53 speaks of division even with a family. I wouldn’t say that our human relationships really equal the Gospel. They should certainly be the most obvious fruit of us living in relationship with Jesus, but should they be the only one, or even the most important one?
“Isn’t the Gospel more about our relationship to God than about our relationship to each other?”
I think the Gospel both our relationship Him and to each other. The Gospel is all about God reconciling us to Himself through Jesus, through His grace, and then expects us to carry out the mission Jesus started:
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
If we don’t have relationship with each other, how can we possibly accomplish this?
When Jesus gave us the command commonly referred to as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), it wasn’t about converting people. It was about forming relationships and following His commands to love one another in order that others would see His love and His saving grace. And remember, these weren’t simply Jesus’ commands; they came to Him from the Father: Love God, love our neighbors, love each other and love our enemies.
“When Jesus gave us the command commonly referred to as the Great Commission, it wasn’t about converting people.”
Susan, I don’t know what you mean by “converting people”. Peter calls those Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost to Repent and be converted. So, how is making disciples different from converting people? Making disciples assumes that those we are working with have already been “converted” from their POV to that of God/Jesus/Scripture. Once there, they can be taught what means to follow Jesus (be His disciple) in that mode, from that POV. So, yes, our relationships to each other are important, and by our love those outside the church will know we are His followers, but love doesn’t mean I simply swallow whatever swill someone wants to espouse that is contrary to Scripture simply to avoid offending them. I want to get along, but as much as it is up to me, I want to get along the route to a closer walk with Jesus, not as much with other people. I love them, but not as much as Jesus. In love I will continue to bring, push, and prod toward a Biblical view of Jesus well over and above any competing view.
Wow, a lot to munch on here, Matt. Okay, let me attempt to take your points one at a time. My apologies ahead of time on the length of this reply.
First, how is making disciples different from converting people? “Making disciples assumes that those we are working with have already been “converted” from their POV to that of God/Jesus/Scripture. Once there, they can be taught what means to follow Jesus (be His disciple) in that mode, from that POV.”
So, “converting” is exactly what you said it is – we “assume” someone has changed their point of view. But – as evidenced here, to what? To a demoninational or doctrinal POV? To your POV of God/Jesus/Scripture? To mine? Discipleship doesn’t mean (as the apostle Paul said) following Paul or Apollo or you or me – it means forming a relationship with someone who encourages them to follow Jesus, the Father, the Holy Spirit on their own. Disciples must be strengthened to explore the Word via a Study Bible, discover what the Spirit is telling them through their own, unique relationship with God, and healthy, holy discussions about what that means.
“but love doesn’t mean I simply swallow whatever swill someone wants to espouse that is contrary to Scripture simply to avoid offending them.”
I don’t understand equating love with being weak, with succumbing to “competing views.” In every case I read in the Gospels, Jesus loved first (as he did for us), offered grace first, then gave outcasts and sinners the space to recognize and acknowledge their own sins, and come to him and repent. My experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We don’t give people that space; we don’t give them a chance to own their own fallenness. We want the power to point it out to them; we want the attention on us for having saved them when it is not up to us. Our job, through love, is to open the door for them to reach out to Jesus and for him to hand them the opportunity for his Love and Grace. That is when Transformation occurs (vs. conversion). That is when the “Aha” moments happen. That is when the thirst for discipleship transpires.
When we attempt to argue or accuse people into Christ, all we do is cause them to turn their backs on him. That isn’t what we want or what God wants. Our mission is to reconcile everyone to God (2 Corinthians 5:18). If what we’ve been doing isn’t working, we must change our methods.
Susan, I don’t think you and are all that far apart here really. I don’t expect those outside the fellowship of followers of Jesus to live in a godly biblical way (from a biblical POV). So there I believe we have some common ground.
I also believe that my interpretation of Scripture is simply that, mine. I’ll share it, but it’s not in anyway binding on anyone else, hence my concept of “knothole theology” is entirely dependent on the interpretations of others, like yours; it’s necessary to me. So, here again, I think we have some common ground.
Where we may differ is in your concept of faith being just personal. Scripture describes our walk with God as community, not so much as individuals. I doubt an individual relationship with God really meant much to the first century church and would have been difficult for them to conceptualize. So, in a community of believers, I believe that the community has the responsibility to regulate those in the community, but to do solely based on the community understanding of Scripture.
I’ve seen this abused. But I’ve seen it used well too. I believe Paul’s description of how church as a community is supposed to behave toward each other includes and assumes a community approach to our life with God in Jesus through His Spirit.
So, this may be where we disagree. I believe a community has the responsibility to correct those within in order to help each other grow in our walk together with God. I don’t look at correction as punitive as much as instructional, like mentoring someone through a spiritual discipline to help them deepen their walk with Jesus. It’s not supposed to divide, but it is supposed to protect the community. And sometimes that protection of the community divides, as Jesus said His teachings would. Paul commands the Corinthian church to expel one of their own living contrary to Scriptural teachings. On the other hand Paul also tells them to accept someone expelled back into their community who has repented. I believe the process described in Scripture is supposed to be restorative and loving.
As I said, I’ve seen this concept misused. I’ve seen corruption in police officers, but I still rely on the institution of law enforcement for peacekeeping in my community. In a similar fashion seeing this biblical concept abused will not keep me from relying on it in my own community of Jesus-followers.
I hope that clarifies. We may be closer to each other on this matter than it seems from our earlier comments. I think we are anyway.
First, I don’t think our relationship with God is “just” personal; I think it is both personal and communal, both relational. Scripture tells us it’s communal via the Trinity. Scripture tells us it’s personal via we are each a son or daughter of our Father, and because Jesus had a personal relationship with each of his disciples.
Thank you for explaining the way you look at correction not as punitive. My major concern, however, is how we approach those who are not believers.
We cannot approach them first with legalism; we must form safe and loving relationships first. Ones that are filled with care and grace, because otherwise, they will not be prepared or willing to listen to anything about sin. Love isn’t just an emotion – it’s a powerful force that creates change.
I agree with that. In fact Don ‘s entry on a ministry of presence comes to mind as I think of ministering to people hurting without Christ. Judging those outside the community is somewhat like trying to enforce the American justice system in Yemen; with about the same likelihood of success. It makes no sense.
Well, there you go!