Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
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‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal until it was all leavened.’ Matthew 13:33
Modern translations like the New International Version have Jesus speaking of the kingdom of heaven being like yeast. He actually spoke about ‘leaven’ which is highly significant. Leaven was a lump of dough left over from the last round of bread-making. But Jesus likening the kingdom of heaven to leaven would have left his original hearers in a state of utter bewilderment because in Jesus' day leaven was a symbol of evil. The strangeness of Jesus’ metaphor gets stranger still for we are told that a woman takes this lump of leaven and hides it in three measures of flour. Who in their right mind would conceal leaven in three measures of flour - which is over 20 kilograms - enough to feed over a hundred people? What is Jesus getting at? Would there be any occasion when a woman would behave in such a strange manner? There is one possibility - the feast of the Passover, also called ‘the feast of unleavened bread’.
At this time all leaven had to be removed from the house on pain of excommunication. Now just imagine that a group of Pharisees decided to do a spot check on a village and they arrive totally unannounced. What is a poor woman going to do when she hears the knock on the door, having heard whispers from her neighbour that the Pharisees were doing the rounds and there on the table is a lump of leaven? Well she quickly looks around and sees the flour barrel. She lifts the lid and pushes the leaven down into the barrel just below the surface and quickly covers it up again. Here is the cartoon bit. As the woman starts to hold polite conversation with the visiting clergy, they hear a slight bubbling noise and the lid of the barrel starts to lift, out starts pouring this dough, making its way down the sides and then across the floor, out of the room and out onto the street, taking over everything. That is the exaggerated picture Jesus might be painting here.
And so it is with the message of the kingdom, the Gospel. It starts off hidden; hardly noticeable with this Rabbi from Galilee and his followers, but its effects can’t be stopped. Out it goes, escaping into the world in order to transform it.
Of course that is exactly what happened.
For example, the first institution for the blind was founded by Thalasius, a Christian monk. The first free dispensary was founded by Apollonius, a Christian merchant. The first hospital was founded by Fabiola, a Christian woman. Paganism doesn't produce compassion, Christianity does. Paganism leaves sick new-born babies on the hillside to die, Christianity takes them in to enable them to live. Whatever sins and weaknesses beset the Church, we do have so much we can point to and say, 'Look at the effects of the kingdom'. The leaven of the Gospel is still at work in the world.
Dear Lord, we look at the world around us and the leaven we see at work is often corrupt and corrupting. But we bless you for the leaven of the kingdom of heaven which can’t be contained or domesticated. Let it flow out into our society to cleanse it, transform it and renew it by capturing hearts and minds for the Lord Jesus in whose name we pray. Amen.