Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46, 52
Today we ask, “What are we to make of these tiny parables?” The kingdom of God is like a tiny grain of mustard seed, like yeast or leaven, like treasure buried in a field, like a pearl of great value. What can we learn from these few words, these puzzling parables?
It’s tempting to see them as simplistic, taking them at face value. As we’ve noted previously, when we do that, we run the risk of missing out on the nuance that was intended by Jesus. And we miss the fact that by their very nature parables are intended to intrigue and even confound us.
Remember that a short while ago we noted the recent notion of speaking not of the kingdom, but the kin-dom of God.
I like this idea, and I think Jesus would as well. The word kingdom evokes domination, power, and control. Whereas the work kin-dom lifts up the importance of relationship, and that my friends is what Jesus was all about. So what do these parables say about relationship, kin-dom?
Let’s take the shortest of the parables, the one sentence parable. The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible says: “The kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, taken by a woman and put into three measures of flour until the whole lot had risen.”
Well, okay, but isn’t that what yeast is supposed to do?
So, what insight might another translation provide? With this passage we find that sometimes even our older translations are helpful. In the King James Version we read: Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three [a]measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
Leaven, not the little packets of fast rising yeast we buy today that sits on the shelf or in the refrigerator or freezer for months until inspiration strikes us and we pull out a recipe that we remember from our mother or grandmother, or maybe we call Sandy for her recipe for sweet rolls. Okay now I’ve got my mouth’s watering for a yummy cinnamon bun with gooey caramel and maybe a few nuts on top. Maybe you can just taste them, too. But I digress.
No, for an old-fashioned parable we need and old-fashioned word. Leaven in those was not the little packet of yeast, but more like a sour dough starter today. A starter must be tended and fed to be ready for baking tomorrow, and the next day, and next week. They say some of the most prized starters have been tended for years and even decades.
But that, as we know, was not the Jewish practice. Every year at Passover all the yeast, all the leaven, in the household was diligently cleaned out and started afresh. They recognized that leaven like relationships could go bad. There might be a hot spell or a delay in feeding and the sour smell would turn foul, putrid, and it would be time to throw out the whole batch and start over.
So now that we have a better idea of one of the ingredients, the leaven or the yeast, let’s look at another translation. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) says: He told them still another parable: “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.”
Wow! Sixty pounds!! Sixty pounds!! Picture it! Six ten-pound bags, or if you prefer, another version describes it as a bushel of flour. Yes, three measures of flour is the amount one might ask for when visiting the mill for a month’s supply. This isn’t just your family supper we’re talking about. This is a meal for a festive occasion, dinner for a crowd, a reunion, even for the entire town!
Now we see where it is Jesus might be going with this. It’s another teaching about nurture and hospitality. We must nurture the yeast. We must attend diligently to Jesus’ teaching about our relationships with one another. And we must spread that Good News and that goodwill around. Be generous even extravagant in our sharing.
I believe Jesus is asking us to nurture all our relationships. I was reminded of something from one of the autobiographies of Maya Angelou. Her mother, she said, in speaking about relationships told Maya that if she had only one smile to give away that day, she should give it to someone at home. “Don’t go out and waste it out on the street on someone you don’t even know.” She said to give that one smile to someone at home. Perhaps it was her mother’s equivalent of the saying, “Charity begins at home.” Practice first at home and then take it out on the streets.
Now Maya took this teaching from her mother and those she learned growing up with her grandmother. She took teachings from the Unity church of her young adulthood and from her diverse life experiences and became one of the warmest most generous of people, sharing her wisdom through language and art. In recent years, before her death, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey*, she was asked, “So what words do you turn to for comfort?” Her answer was simply, “Love”…. And then she elaborated, “Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it allows us to forgive.”
My friends I believe this statement gets to the core of Jesus teachings. Love well. Nurture relationship. Practice at home and spread that love generously around.
In this time of pandemic, we need to remember Jesus teachings to nurture and love all people, even our enemies. And one of the easiest and most visible ways to show that love is by wearing a mask to protect ourselves, and even, more especially to protect others. So, as we say a blessing for our masks today, let us remember Jesus’ call to love one another so that we are moved to live it out in words and actions.
* Interview with Oprah Winfrey, Supersoul, The Revelation That Changed Dr. Maya Angelou’s Life 5/19/2013 http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/the-revelation-that-changed-maya-angelous-life-video