Bread is a relatively simple food—wheat flour, water, and the most crucial element, leaven.
When you think about it, leaven is a rather oddball ingredient. Leaven isn’t an herb or a spice. It’s fungus—mold! It’s a living organism that feasts on the sugars contained in the wheat flour. The leaven then secretes two waste products: alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol gets burned off in the oven. The gluten molecules contained in wheat flour trap the carbon-dioxide bubbles, which makes the bread rise—giving it its soft, fluffy texture. Furthermore, the leaven makes the bread into a living thing.
And where does this miracle substance come from but bread, that’s left in the damp, dark place, to rot and mold…
It’s also worth noting that leaven also grows on the skin of grapes—and therefore plays just as crucial a role in the making of wine.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses leaven to teach us about God. He says:
So when Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to leaven, it’s very ironic (to say the least). And in Jesus’ day, leaven wasn’t a substance held in high regard. It was a cultural symbol of corruption, hence the reasoning behind Jesus’ the crowds to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” which is to say, that their teachings were like poison—or “fungused bread.”
But today, Jesus holds the leaven in high regard…
Three measures of flour may not sound like much to us—but when Jesus says “three measures,” he’s speaking of what would be to us as 47 pounds of flour. We’re talking about enough bread to feed hundreds of people… And if you bake bread, you know that a little bit of yeast can go a long way.
So what we have here is a parable about what God is doing in the world. The leaven is the kingdom of heaven; the flour is the world. The flour is us.
Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never prayed for leaven, either for myself or for someone else. When I’m sick or in need, or as I see all the chaos and suffering in the world, I don’t want God to give me fungus! But more often than not, we feel that way when we pray. We want God to cure us of our diseases; we want our needs and wants fulfilled. We want and need God to turn the world upside down so we can all live in peace and harmony.
But God gives us leaven… It’s tiny; it’s slow; it appears so insignificant as to be useless. Yet even the smallest gifts that God gives have tremendous power to bring about what God desires for you and for the world.
Think about it: leaven is living—just like God is living. In the same way that leaven makes bread into a living organism, God makes you alive. The kingdom of heaven literally feasts upon your being; devouring the sin within you. It devours your doubt, your pain and your sorrow. Like bread, you arise.
You become the masterpiece of the Divine Baker. You are as different from the person you were before as bread is from the matzos.
And where do we receive this leaven that devours sin and banishes away doubt? From bread and wine. The bread of God’s Word that we hear, we study, we teach, and we proclaim. The bread and the wine that are the true flesh and blood of our precious Jesus. By grace, we become bread and wine for the world.
Do you ever notice that just about every Sunday, we have a ton of bread and wine left over? Some Sundays, especially in the summer time, this may be a disturbing sign. Don’t think that way.
Look up and see that there is an abundance of bread and wine to be shared—and people are hungry and thirsty for them. Don’t believe the lie that people don’t want anything to do with Christianity or church any more. That simply isn’t true. This is the bread and wine that gives life to a world so full of death.
You know something else? You are bread for the world—because Christ lives in you through faith. You may feel this way about yourself, but you are a gift of beauty to God’s world. You are created and transformed by God, and you are given all kinds of gifts to feed a hungry world with literal bread as well as with the bread of life from God.
It’s all thanks to a little bit of leaven, coming from God. God puts a little bit of leaven in you, in me, in the world—and new life will arise in a big way.