One of Jesus’ mysterious parables is found in Matthew 13:33. It’s a parable contained in just one verse. It says:
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Yeast or leaven always represents sin or corruption. How is the Kingdom of God like sin penetrating the huge amount of dough? Yeast itself is not sin. Yeast causes bread to rise and double in size. Everyone knows that. Yet, God led the people of Israel to consider their sin by applying it to a physical representation—yeast. He could have chosen something else; but God knows us, and He teaches spiritual lessons through realities that transcend time. Just like the ancients, we are still eating bread that contains yeast to this very day. It was through the yeast used to make bread that God pointed out the fact that we tend to distance ourselves from facing—WE ARE SINNERS. God gave us an object lesson about sin in our daily living. God also used bread and wine to remind us of how our problem with sin can be resolved—by believing in the death, resurrection and forgiveness that God offers to us through Jesus—the Lord’s Supper.
How does comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast mixed into a large amount of dough help us understand the holiness of God? This parable shows us that God does not give up on sinners and accepts that we cannot rid ourselves from sin. In fact, the Kingdom of Heaven actually grows in part due to the sin that has penetrated the entire world. Indeed, we can become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven when we recognize that we are sinners without hope to stop sinning. I was in second grade, only seven years old, when a lightbulb went off in my mind that I was a sinner. How much sinning can you do by seven? Though I have continued to sin in even bigger ways since then, I recognized my need to place my faith in Jesus Christ by identifying that I was a seven-year-old sinner! It appears that sin does not kill the Kingdom of God; in fact, it actually makes it grow!
Where the Jewish religion only offered sinners strategies for ridding themselves from sin, Jesus Christ offers Himself to cleanse us from our slavery to sin. It should be obvious that God has not thrown in the towel because of sin. He didn’t do that after Adam and Eve first sinned. He did immediately send Satan, his fallen angels, and the only two sinners who existed to Hell at that very moment. Rather, it appears that God has a way to grow His own Kingdom and sin cannot stop His will from being carried out. The Kingdom of God cannot be defeated even when sin penetrates every part of its boundaries.
Sin—the sin of others against me, or my own sins—actually motivates me to expand the Kingdom of God according to this object lesson by Jesus. I can recognize this in my life. As Thomas Keating calls I, the monumental corruption—illustrated by the large amount of sin in the Kingdom implied in this verse—is exactly motivating the growth of the Kingdom. Our problem isn’t our sin specifically. Our problem is what we do with our sin. Do we cover it up, hide it from our own eyes and others, find ways to stop it, go ahead and sin even more? None of that will give sin a positive effect. However, when recognition of our sin problem becomes the doorway through which we enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it becomes a powerful force to grow the Kingdom of God. As others see what God has done in my life in overcoming my sin, they too want to be part of the Kingdom of God. Keating goes on to say: “The kingdom manifests its incomparable power by changing our inner dispositions and attitudes. There may be no great deliverance, no sensational conversion; just small changes for the better in the way we react to the same old routines and customary failures.” The Kingdom of God is most evident in the transformation of sinful humans. God grows His Kingdom in the most extraordinary ordinary ways.
As you enter the Lenten Season on Ash Wednesday, February 14, I hope you have a Holy Lent growing God’s Kingdom by your own personal transformation. And Happy Valentine’s Day too.