The Leaven Parable

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

Then the disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?” Jesus answered, “The knowledge about the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven have been given to you, but not to them. For the person who has something will be given more, so that he will have more than enough; but the person who has nothing will have taken away from him even the little he has. The reason I use parables in talking to them is that they look, but do not see, and they listen, but do not hear or understand. So the prophecy of Isaiah applies to them:

‘This people will listen and listen, but not understand; they will look and look, but not see, because their minds are dull, and they have stopped up their ears and have closed their eyes. Otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear, their minds would understand, and they would turn to me, says God, and I would heal them.’

As for you, how fortunate you are! Your eyes see and your ears hear. I assure you that many prophets and many of God’s people wanted very much to see what you see, but they could not, and to hear what you hear, but they did not [Mk 4.10-12; Lk 8.9-10; Matt 13.10-16].”

Jesus’ teachings and philosophies are predominately analogical; he tried to encourage new insights by allowing people to draw comparisons with familiar situations. Perhaps this is why simple foodstuffs and domestic chores feature so many times in the Bible. It is fairly evident that his preferred audience are not the wealthy or powerful so many of the terms he uses are familiar to them. By using parables he is encouraging freedom of thought in an imaginative style that would appeal to this audience. Parables encourage self-assessment, are memorable and others could pass the stories through the community. Moreover, they would permeate through society in a leaven-like manner.

Return of the prodigal son. Rembrandt, 1665.

The parables also tend to be grouped together by subject manner. For instance the parable of the Lost Sheep is grouped with the parable of the Lost Coin and the parable of the Lost Son [Lk.15]. These parables all deal with the issue of finding belief when it has been lost. In the Lost Sheep Jesus describes how joyous a shepherd is when one of his sheep strays and is found even though he has several that are not lost. Similarly, in the parable of the Lost Coin a woman loses one of her few coins searches frantically for it and rejoices when it is rediscovered. In the final parable a father celebrates when a sinful son repents, he was lost and then was found. Some of the parables are told within the context of life at that particular time in history, perhaps referring to a current or political situation. Therefore, the parables are sometimes difficult to interpret accurately.

The Leaven parable, mentioned by Mathew and Luke, is grouped with several parables describing the Kingdom of Heaven, such as the parable of Weeds [Matt. 13.24-47] and the parable of the Mustard Seed [Mk. 4.30-32, Matt. 13.31-32; Lk. 13.18-19]. In each of these parables the coming of heaven could be interpreted as the end product resulting from the growth of all these items; the leavened loaf of bread, the weed-free harvest and the fully-grown tree from a mustard seed. The parable of Weeds describes how the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a field sown only with good seed. Any weeds that grow represent evil and are separated from the crop to be destroyed by the harvesters. In the context of the era leaven may have had a different connotation. The parable of the Leaven consists of just two sentences:

“The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some leaven and hid it in three measures of meal until the whole batch of dough rises”
[Matt. 13.33; Lk. 13.20]

To many this parable is thought to illustrate how the Gospel will slowly permeate through society until all is converted to Christianity. This is in contradiction to how leaven is usually interpreted in the bible, to symbolically represent corruption. The leaven parable can be divided into three component parts: the leaven, the woman and the meal or flour. Each of these component parts plays a different role in the message being conveyed within the parable and are discussed separately in following posts.

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3 thoughts on “The Leaven Parable

  1. Pingback: …heavenly bread making | the Leaven

  2. Pingback: the Leaven

  3. Pingback: …three is the magi number | the Leaven

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