“God Works like Leavening in a Loaf”

a sermon based on Luke 11:53 - 12:2, and Luke 13:20-21

Jesus asks a question: “To what should I compare the Kingdom of God?” Hmm… It seems to me we’ve heard that one before! (Right?)

Just last Sunday, we heard Jesus answer that question with the image of a mustard seed… which a man took and planted in his garden. In time, it grew up to become a bigger bush than any of the other vegetables -- a veritable tree, in which birds could find shelter.

As I mentioned last week: Who would have thought that a small seed buried underground would contain the “potential” of that final glorious scene? -- in which the sun was shining and the birds were flying in & out of the protective shade of the mustard branches… and little birds twittered & chirped happily in their nests in the shrubbery.

From that lovely image of a farmer’s garden, Jesus immediately segued into today’s parable: the “leavening” in the loaf. Jesus draws spiritual meaning from a woman’s making (& baking) of bread.

Again, as I did two weeks ago with the parable of the fig tree, I went to George M. Lamsa, the Assyrian scholar, in his book Gospel Light (Comments on the Teachings of Jesus from Aramaic and Unchanged Eastern Customs, Philadelphia: A.J. Holman, 1936 reprint 1967, p.100) to learn something of the bread-baking process in ancient Israel.

“Before bread is baked,” he writes, “women set aside a handful of leaven [yeast] to be mixed with the next day’s supply.

“This is placed in a large wooden basin and hot water is poured over it,” he writes. “When it is dissolved, the flour is mixed with the solution. The leaven causes the dough to ferment, and while it is fermenting, it increases in bulk. Easterners believe that the increase is caused by sacred and hidden blessing in the family leaven. In their eyes, [it] is sacred.”

Lamsa goes on to point out that the family’s reputation in the community is spoken of by analogy as “leaven”: “One often hears: ‘Beware of him; he has grown up eating bread made of bad leaven.’ . . . In Turkey, Christians don’t eat bread baked by Jews . . . The Jews don’t eat cheese made by Christians or [Muslims] because the yeast that is used . . . is not kosher.”

We hear a hint of this negative use of the analogy in the first reading from Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus spoke of “leavening”...

As Jesus went away from there, the scribes and Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things, lying in wait for him, to catch at something he might say. In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 11:53 - 12:1)

Jesus used “yeast” as a metaphor signifying the attitudes or teachings of certain people when he says to the crowd: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees… which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1). Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”