Mustard and Yeast

Little things mean a lot

Matthew 13:31–33

Parables: The King’s secrets, parables 3 & 4

40 Blogs of Lent: Day 31

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
Matthew 13:31–33 ESVUK

Mustard Tree

This is the third parable about sowing seed, but this and all subsequent parables are not later explained to the disciples. We’re on our own here.

Yet again checking through the various commentaries has not helped. Opinions range from the parable is about the growth of God’s kingdom to it being about the growth of evil. With such a range we’re really on our own.

The idea that this is about the spread of evil is based on the notion that every time a picture is used in the Bible it always means the same thing, so the birds were a picture of the evil one in the parable of the sower, therefore they must mean the same here.

However, I am choosing to go with the idea that this is about the growth of  God’s kingdom simply because it is explicit in the text: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.”

It was common for Rabbis to use exaggeration when teaching in order to make a point. This was a technique Jesus used also when speaking about someone having a beam of wood in his eye. Jesus is exaggerating here also. Firstly in the size of the mustard seed, it is not the smallest of all seeds, and secondly mustard—even if we take the word to mean any pungent spice—is not the largest of the trees. The tree in the parable is much larger than you would expect. To those who are predicting the decline of Christianity, I have this to say, God’s kingdom is far larger than you could possibly imagine.

Stories about trees in the Bible are often about power and rule, In the books of Ezekiel and Daniel, they are also the refuge for birds. All kinds of birds are the people of all nations who have lived under oppression and here they can find shelter in God’s Justice. Hospitality that sustains life rather than destroys it.

23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it.”
Ezekiel 17:23–24

Yeast (or leaven)

The parable of the leaven, a raising agent in food, usually yeast, has the same beginning as the previous one, something tiny, but it ends differently, although the kingdom of heaven depicted here grows, it remains hidden.

What matters is not the beginning but the end. Yeast works silently, unnoticed, the woman hides the leavening agent in the flour and although it is only tiny in comparison with the quantity of flour. Only a few of God’s people can have a massive impact on society. Look at the impact of Christians Against Poverty in the UK. They are getting referrals from the Citizens Advice Bureau and are praised on the Martin Lewis Money Show on TV and are being run through churches. Their impact is amazing.

For those facing persecution for being Christians, these words bring hope. Even though God’s kingdom may not be visible they know that it is still there, hidden beneath the surface and growing. The kingdom of God will not be defeated.

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