Like Yeast & Mustard SeedPosted: August 14, 2016
LIKE YEAST & A MUSTARD SEED
SLIDE 3: MUSTARD SEED & YEAST
This morning we examine two very short parables of Jesus, the mustard seed and the yeast. The Parable of the Mustard Seed appears independently in the Gospel of Mark, and the Parable of the Yeast appears independently in the Gospel of Luke, but Matthew couples the two parables suggesting he saw a similar meaning of the two sayings.
So let’s begin with the narrative of the mustard seed. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes like a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
SLIDE 4: WE ARE PART OF THE ETERNAL MYSTERY
The mustard seed reminds me of part of Robert Fulgum’s poem, “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:”
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Seeds represent the great mystery of life, the very mystery that is at the heart of all of our lives. How and why we germinate and grow nobody really knows why. For we are part of the eternal mystery that is God and the universe.
SLIDE 5: PARABLE OF THE SEEDS
The Mustard Seed image also speaks to the bountiful nature of God. From the smallest of seeds a giant plant grows that is large enough for birds to make a nest. Mark places the Mustard seed right next to the Parable of the Seeds: Mark 4: 26 Jesus also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” All seeds then can be compared to faith, though in the beginning faith may seem small and weak, if allowed to grow the seeds will supply life and health.
SLIDE 6: MEDICINAL MUSTARD
So we might ask, why did Jesus use a mustard seed, is there anything special about the mustard plant? Mustard is a curative, and one available to anyone. While it can be cultivate, it also grew wild in the Middle East. Mustard can be used as an aid to digestion as well as an astringent and an anti- inflammatory somewhat like turmeric. It is part of the good world God gives us; like the sun, which insists on shining, the seed insists on growing, to be used by anyone who finds the plant.
SLIDE 7: FREE HEALING – OPEN COMMENSALITY
The mustard plant may have also been a kind of symbol of the ministry of Jesus. John Dominic Crossan claims that the two trademarks of Jesus’ ministry were free healing and open commensality (everyone welcome at the table to eat.) We will discuss further the symbol of open commensality, when we talk about the story of yeast in dough, but for now let’s consider the possibility that the mustard plant was a symbol of free healing. God had provided a plant of enormous healing properties that grew in abundance for free, and could be used by anyone who chose to harvest and utilize it. We do not have any direct evidence of Jesus using herbal remedies in his healing, but we do have at least two occasions, when Jesus used “spit” as a placebo, and one time, when he used spit mixed with mud as a placebo. So let’s not discount the possibility that the mustard seed was a symbol of herbs and healing.
SLIDE 8: YEAST IN DOUGH
Now let’s turn to the companion story of the Parable of Yeast in Dough. To appreciate this parable, we must attend to the cultural understanding of yeast and the amount of bread that three measures of flour would yield. We need to correct the translation that has the woman “mixing” the yeast into the dough, because that is not what the Greek says. And we do well to see what the combined imagery of women and dough, hiding and ovens would have suggested to people living in the first century.
SLIDE 9: LOVE & JUSTICE UNDERMINES HATE & VIOLENCE
According to most major English translations, the woman “mixed” the yeast with three measures of flour. The problem is that the Greek does not say “mixed.” The term is “enkrypto,” which comes from a root meaning “to hide.” Thus, she is literally doing something secretly almost covertly to undermine the present order of things. Jesus thought of his Commonwealth of God as undermining the present order of things. The community of love and justice undermines the forces of hate and violence — good images for the followers of Jesus in our present time.
SLIDE 10: IMAGE OF THE MESSIANIC AGE
The idea of hiding yeast and of the dough rising on its own can suggest insemination and then pregnancy. The idea that this parable hides an image of pregnancy and birth is not just a feminist fantasy; it is supported as well by the common metaphor that associates pregnancy and childbirth with the messianic age in the time of Jesus. Remember the metaphor Paul used in his Letter to the Romans 8: 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as children of God.
SLIDE 11: THREE MEASURES 40 – 60 POUNDS
Now let’s think about the amount of bread in the Parable. Three measures in first-century terms, is not synonymous with three cups. Three measures of flour is somewhere between forty and sixty pounds. The image is one of extravagance — like extravagant welcome, where everyone who comes to the table is fed. We might be reminded of many other New Testament images of food in abundance, from the wedding at Cana, with its sixty gallons of good wine, to the feeding of the five thousand, in which five loaves and two fish yield twelve basketfuls of leftovers.
SLIDE 12: EXTRAVAGANCE & GENEROSITY
Given the enormous yield that would result from forty to sixty pounds of flour, the parable speaks to the importance of extravagance and generosity. Imagine setting up a food pantry that stocks enough for many families could eat — Foodline. Imagine baking bread for those who have none and who wonder about all those well-fed folks who pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Three measures of flour represented an image of extravagant generosity not lost on Jesus’ audience.
SLIDE 13: SMALL ACTS OF LOVING KINDNESS
So when we couple the yeast and the mustard seed what we see now is the concept of potential, but a potential that needs to be actualized. The yeast has to be placed into the dough; the seed has to be planted. Even small actions or hidden actions of loving kindess have the potential to produce great things.
SLIDE 14: SOME THINGS NEED TO BE LEFT ALONE
In addition, from both plants and dough we learn yet at least three more lessons. First, some things need to be left alone. Keep fiddling with the dough and it will not rise; keep exposing the seed to air and it will not germinate. Not everything or everyone, needs our constant attention. We are part of a larger process, and although we may start an action, once started, it can often do quite well on its own. Are there people or issues in our own lives that need to be left alone? Sometimes, when we rush in to make an intervention we mess things up more than if we just left it alone.
SLIDE 15: WE NEED TO GET OUT OF THE WAY
Second, sometimes we need to get out of the way. We are not always the focus; sometimes we are the facilitator for something bigger than ourselves. As I move toward retirement I realize there are times I need to get out of the way and trust that God is at work in the process. The woman hides the yeast in the dough. The man plants, or even tosses, the seed. Who sowed it is much less important that the tree into which the plant grows. The final image is not a focus on the human actors, but on the results of the actions — plentiful healing herb, and bread enough for all to eat.
SLIDE 16: BREAD ENOUGH FOR ALL TO EAT
Finally, both the yeast and the mustard are about domestic concerns not great political, historic or military events. The seed parable is set in a garden or in field; the yeast parable is set at a village oven. The kingdom of heaven is found in what today we might call “our own backyard” in the generosity of nature and in the daily workings of men and women. The two sayings suggest that the notion for the “lust for big-time success” is misplaced. The challenge of the parable is much homier: don’t ask “when” the kingdom comes or “where” it is. The when is in its own good time — as long as it takes for the seed to sprout and grow and the dough to rise and bake. The where is that the kingdom is already present, in the world. The kingdom is all around us for those who have the eyes to see. The kingdom is present when humanity and nature work together, and we do what we were put here to do — to provide for others, and ourselves as well. At the community oven or at Foodline the kingdom of God is realized as the Sharing Table becomes a reality, when there is bread and justice enough for all to eat.