We continue our series on seeing beyond the Parables with the next parable found in Matthew 13:31-35. This is a very common parable with a very clear and understandable message. This passage also possesses in (v.34) another statement about why he was teaching in parables.
“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
You’ve heard me say many times that religion has turned Heaven into an other worldly destination which a person enters after they die so long as he or she picks the right religion or belief system. If this is the case, then what is the purpose of Jesus’ parables? Through parables, Jesus is revealing that Heaven is hard to see, and its access point is here and now, not when we die. Heaven is populated with people who have both good and bad working inside them, then at some later time, a sorting will take place between and within everyone. And somehow, after 2000 years, this bears littler resemblance to the Heaven taught by our storytellers, movie makers, and pastors.
Today’s two parables belong together. They are two ways of saying the same thing by way of word pictures. In an agricultural society, everyone knows about seeds and everyone knows about yeast. In both cases, there is a delay between the work we do and the end result we are seeking with both.
The “kòkko” or seed is singular so already this story paints an interesting image. What farmer would sow a single seed into his entire field? Contrast this to the preceding parable of the Sower who is constantly sowing seeds which are landing everywhere. Immediately this teaches us how to think differently. If one parable teaches many and this parable teaches singular and both are describing the same Kingdom, clearly Jesus is describing a Kingdom where paradox helps us see. These are not contradictory.
Another side note here… I’ve heard skeptics claim that the Bible is unreliable because the claim that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds is false. The arrogant question is: “How could Jesus, if he was the Son of God, not know that the mustard seed isn’t the smallest of seeds?” Translators inappropriately use the English superlative “smallest” but the Greek word “mikros” is a nominative adjective here which means “smaller.” So there is no inferred claim that the mustard seed is the smallest seed, only that it is a smaller seed.
The point of the parable is clearly that in both the case of the mustard seed and the yeast, we are dealing with something that seems at the onset quite insignificant, or unimportant, or hardly noticeable. The point is that once it matures, it becomes a vital, if not dominant aspect of the way things are. The birds which once devoured the seed are now living in the branches of what that seed became. The tiniest pinch of yeast expands the dough into many loafs.
Heaven starts insignificant…then takes over everything. Heaven begins so subtly we don’t even notice it, but then reshapes all of reality.
Jesus is also saying that his Kingdom is generative. One mustard seed becomes a massive tree which produces many seeds and many more mustard trees. Jesus is reframing his audience to begin seeing things from an abundance mindset and not from one of scarcity. There is more than enough to go around. In a generative Kingdom, competition for resource is unnecessary, for each has more than enough. The same is true of our world today. There is more than enough for our need, but the corrupted hearts in power reveal there is not enough for everyone’s greed.
The teaching builds as we string parables together. The seed must find good soil and be fertile. The yeast must be a living culture to do its work. This illuminates the trajectory or “teleological” aspect of the Kingdom. The seed will become the biggest tree of the garden. The yeast will leaven the whole lump of dough, and thus the final picture of Heaven is still coming while it is already here now. Thus to see this kingdom, we are to understand that it is a “now” AND “not fully yet” Kingdom. We are witnesses to Heaven from the vantage point of our time which is neither its planting, nor its harvest. That is why people struggle to see the world as Heaven.
The application which these parables provide us a massive frameshift in how our worldview develops. If we conclude the horrors of the world are proof that God and Heaven can’t exist then we casts shade on Jesus message. We are like the person who cannot envision the completed house when it’s only at the framing part of construction. If we see and hear the message and allow it to shape our worldview, then the horrors of the world are the understandable reality of a field not yet ready to harvest or a loaf that hasn’t fully risen, and that produces faith that the best is yet to come.
This faith is the basis of our generations Advent or anticipation.
It’s a proven fact that the optimist sees opportunity where the pessimist sees struggle. These worldviews or mindsets establish the trajectory of our lives and thus these provide a massive clue about how to successfully navigate the world, how to overcome adversity, and how to prosper. Jesus is giving all comers a True North from which they can navigate all decisions of life. These small, seemingly inconsequential ethos of faith and optimism, when protracted over time, results in a cumulative harvest compared to a withered waste of a life.
This truth has been tested and proven over and over again, so much so that every strata, religion, life coach, counselor, and all sources of good advice have adopted, embraced and promote this fundamental truth of life. I’d say, that is pretty good indicator that Jesus word or message has leavened the dough of history…though not completely. What we can see, if we have the line of sight, is a bun in the oven…it’s rising…but it isn’t done yet. This means Heaven is about our participation, not a mere destination. If we want to go there “someday” we must join it today.
Participation is to remain in faith. Participation is to remain optimistic. Participation is the anticipation of the coming Kingdom of which we all people (wheat and weeds) are already citizens.
As citizens, it’s our job to point out this Kingdom to others, and help build it until till the harvest finally comes. It doesn’t take much to see it, but once we do, we discover this yeast is everywhere, and that’s when reality changes forever.