What Can Yeast Teach Us About The Kingdom of Heaven?
Every Sunday when we say the Lord’s prayer we pray “thy kingdom come,” but if you’re like me you might wonder what that kingdom- God’s kingdom is like. Even before Jesus begins his ministry, in the book of Matthew, John the Baptist is already out preaching and baptizing the crowds, calling them to repent for the “kingdom of heaven has come near.” After his baptism and temptation, when John had been arrested, we learn in Matthew chapter 4 that Jesus began to proclaim the exact same message.
Jesus then spends all of Matthew chapter 13 explaining to the disciples and the crowd around him in parables what this kingdom of heaven is like. So if we are a people, following a Savior who asks us to pray that God’s kingdom would come, what do we mean by that? How do we know when the kingdom has come, what is it like? As an individual who is highly motivated by food, Matthew chapter 13 vs 33 makes my ears perk up when I read the scriptures.
Jesus tells the crowd that “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” So the kingdom of heaven is like yeast… hmm. When I read this parable, it’s easy for me to imagine that it’s my own grandmother in the kitchen, adding yeast to bread dough, waiting for it to rise, shaping the dough into the delicious dinner rolls my family would eat for Sunday lunch, waiting for the yeast to make the rolls rise some more, before finally putting them into the oven to bake. I remember the hours that I spent with her, learning how to make that famous potato roll recipe, and how every time I try to make it without her guidance, they just don’t turn out quite right. They’re too dense, not like her light, fluffy dinner rolls that were the staple of family dinners. The difference between her rolls and mine- she knew when and how to let the yeast do it’s work, I’m rarely careful enough to get the water at just the right temperature so that the yeast will grow, and if it does, I’m prone to putting the dough in the oven before the yeast has done it’s work and gotten the dough to rise all the way. I’m too impatient.
A bread baker named Katrina describes working with yeast this way: “Yeast has taught me to watch, to be patient, and know the importance of timing, when to just wait and trust that the dough is rising without my help and when to intervene and either divide/shape/fold/ or bake the dough. [Bread dough and the way it interacts with the yeast] changes every day [based on the air temperature or humidity] so you can’t take it for granted. The day you think you’ve got it down pat, the dough humbles you with some sort of change. Yeast is alive, and it has taught me how to work with the living and how to actively wait.”
So when Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like yeast- he’s saying the kingdom is like this single-celled microorganism that is alive. A member of the fungus family with 1,500 different species, some like bakers yeast, metabolizes sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, causing bread to rise, and grape juice to turn into wine. Different types of yeast can be found everywhere- on the skins of fruits and plants, in the soil, on people’s skin, in our digestive system, and even in deep see environments. So… maybe when Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like yeast- he telling his listeners that the kingdom of heaven is alive and growing, just like yeast in bread dough. Maybe he’s saying that the kingdom of heaven is everywhere, just like the yeast that spreads through all of the dough, or yeasts that are found everywhere on our planet, from the bottom of the ocean to the lining of our stomachs.
But what I notice about my bread-making vs my grandma’s and what Katrina, a professional baker said about working with yeast, I think can also tell us something about the kingdom of heaven. Just like bread-making, the work of building the kingdom takes time, it takes care and patience. If we throw the bread in the oven before the yeast has done its work, if we knead the dough too much, the resulting bread will be dense, hard, and thin instead of light and fluffy. If the kingdom of heaven is everywhere, then seeing it, realizing it’s there, takes our full attention. Just like you have to look through a microscope to see a strain of yeast, you have to look closely at the world around us to see the kingdom of heaven, and then you have to give it the right conditions to thrive.
Finally, like yeast, the kingdom of heaven transforms whatever it mixes with. The ingredients in bread- flour, water, salt, sugar, without yeast will produce a flat, crispy unleavened bread- but add yeast and give it the right conditions, patiently let it grow- and will grow 3, 4, 5 inches in height and be soft and fluffy. Just like yeast mixed through bread dough, when we let the kingdom of heaven grow, we’ll find our hearts, lives, and communities transformed.
Through the parable of the yeast, Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is alive, it’s everywhere, it takes attention and patience to grow, and it transforms everything it touches. Where do you see the kingdom of heaven alive around you? How do you nurture it and allow it to grow like yeast in bread dough? How are you, how is our community, being transformed by the kingdom of heaven, within and all around each of us?