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?