Background / Setting Series
In Matthew the parables describing the Kingdom of heaven are in one section that take most of Chapter 13. In Mark and Luke they are spread more widely. Matthew has helpfully grouped the parables together to give us a wider view of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
You can read the other ones later, but for now we are going to concentrate on the mustard seed and the yeast.
I’m going to talk about the yeast first, because I think it is the easiest one for us to understand.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Summary of Message
It seems fairly obvious what this parable is trying to convey. A small amount of yeast added to the dough makes an enormous difference to the resulting bread. It must of course be well mixed in other wise the bread will be uneven, hard is some places and full of holes in others.
To Jesus’ hearers there would have been some surprising elements to the story.
Yeast was normally associated with evil. Later Jesus would say to his disciples "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matthew 16:6). In Exodus, whenever the Jews are to celebrate God they are always told to bake unleavened bread – bread without yeast. You can imagine the reaction – “What! The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast”. Jesus would not have got the same reaction if he had said “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the drop of milk that a woman put in her tea.” Although the spiritual lesson would be similar the impact is completely lost. You wouldn’t react, so the saying would not be memorable. (OK, I know first century Jews didn’t have cups of tea – but I hope you get the point!)
In the English Standard version and the Amplified Bible we read that the woman took “three measures of flour”. That’s about 22 Litres, 13 kilograms or nearly 30 pounds of flour. That’s the same amount that Sarah prepared when God visited Abraham in Genesis 18. It is the most bread dough that could be kneaded at a time.
Mustard Seed joke
A company sent out advertising with a mustard seed attached to a card which read “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed in our products you are guaranteed to get excellent results and be totally satisfied.” A few months later they received a letter “Dear Sir, You will be interested to know that I planted the mustard seed you sent on your advertising card and it has grown into a very healthy bush producing wonderful tomatoes”
The mustard seed is less straight forward, and brings with it some intriguing questions. The parable is told slightly differently in Mark and Luke.
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”