The Divine Baker
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Matthew 13: 31-33.44-52
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
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.’
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.
May this written word lead us to the Jesus the living word. Amen
Jesus comes out in front of the crowds, to start his morning teaching and he delivers five parables in rapid succession. His timing is masterful, and these word pictures burst forth with precision, so that you can't help but see what he is trying to get across.
Five short parables, one after the other, all of them are gems, about a mustard seed, treasure buried in a field, a priceless pearl, a fishing net and the one I will focus on this morning: the parable about the baker woman.
It is so short you might have missed it when the Gospel was read. "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." Jesus tells them this parable, this one-liner, with no immediate explanation and he does so for a purpose, he wants us to see, a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus probably took this parable of the Kingdom from something that he had often seen his mother Mary doing in his youth. Picture the kitchen the woman takes three measures of flour. A measure was enough flour for a large loaf to feed a family of 5-6 – and the woman took 3 measures that is a lot of flour. Then she adds the leaven (in our translation it is yeast, but in the King James translation it is leaven) Leaven is a little piece of dough kept over from the previous baking which just keeps on fermenting. She empties this into a huge mixing bowl and then adds water. This woman is a serious baker not Delia whipping up a couple of delicate little biscuits. So we have to ask; Why so much dough in this story? Jesus never says anything without purpose.
"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."
One of the Jewish ceremonies is the preparation for the Passover Feast when every scrap of leaven had to be sought out from the house and burned. So this parable would have sent shock waves through the crowd, it might have only been a brief picture, but it certainly would have grabbed their attention. The whole point of this parable lies in the transforming power of leaven. Add leaven or yeast and the whole dough is changed. Unleavened bread is like a water biscuit, hard, dry unappetising and uninteresting; bread baked with leaven is soft spongy, tasty and very good to eat.
The introduction of the leaven causes a transformation in the dough; and the coming of the Kingdom causes a transformation in life.
That is the answer to the first question what does Jesus want us to see – ‘transformation’.
Leaven the small piece of dough that would be saved to be used in the next bake, and will be passed from bake to bake and probably to extended family and beyond.
Just as the good news of the kingdom of God should be passed around. This is why there were 3 measures of flour in the parable, because it is so huge it captures our imagination it could be a picture of the world.
If we take another look at that huge mass of dough, we will see it is not just flour and water any more. The leaven is in it, invisible but permeating the mass, and having its effect. A mystery bubbling away inside, with much more happening than meets the eye. As this process continues, the hidden will become manifest and there is no way to stop it.
Leaven or yeast takes a while to work, so we have to be patient as the dough rises and comes to life. This dough is not a dead lump, a hopeless, shapeless pile, but instead a picture of a world where opportunities become real. It is not only the world represented here. Jesus talks to each individual person, just as he is talking to each one of us reading these words. Just as we are in the world, we are in the dough, an individual roll if you like, and here we see the baker woman at work kneading, shaping and moulding as we respond the events and circumstances of life as well as in the people around us. Just as yeast permeates the entire lump, so the kingdom of God is present everywhere if we look around us and within us, we can recognize the presence of the kingdom.
But it does not come with brass bands. It's not the subject of headline news and public relations efforts. As Jesus said it is like leaven working invisibly in the dough, a hidden yet potent activity. The leaven will not let the dough lie still, it is a disturbing element that makes it rise and makes it active. Likewise there are times when the Holy Spirit calls us to be active, to be disturbed, and to make the kingdom visible.
Just as it takes faith to believe that bread will rise, it takes faith to see the kingdom of God in the everyday stuff of life, the ordinary. But when we look for it then we find it present, abundantly present. And when we do, then we have more reasons to give thanks than we ever expected.
What is this kingdom of God? How will I see it? How will I recognise it? It is where there is forgiveness and reconciliation, peace and goodwill, justice and freedom, truth and generosity, healing and wholeness, and where we see the love of God operating in other people’s lives and in our own.
Such a small parable, just once sentence – yet so much for us to digest. Leaven, that small piece of dough kept back every time to pass on, just as we pass around the kingdom of God. The baker woman at work in our lives and in the world if we have eyes to see.
This morning I have written to you in the name of that God who will offer abundant bread at the heavenly banquet to come, of Jesus the bread of life, broken for each one of us and who gives us a foretaste now when we partake at the Eucharist, and the Holy Spirit who is the ever present leaven silently working in our lives, and so we pray:
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen