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33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”
Jesus’ use of yeast as an image for the kingdom likely puzzled some of his hearers. Baking bread grew in popularity during the pandemic, but many of us have never baked a loaf of bread at all. We might even imagine some of Jesus’ male hearers thinking, “Why is he talking about something my wife does?” “The active agent necessary for making bread [yeast] might seem insignificant when compared to about 50 pounds of flour [a bushel], yet it transforms everything.” *
O Lord, keep the yeast of your eternal wisdom working its way into every corner of my life. Make me a “yeasty” Christian who can change the world around me for the good. Amen.
I make homemade rolls every year at Easter and Christmas. I’d make them more often, but they are a bit time and labor intensive. I get out my crinkled up, spotted and stained recipe card to verify whether they need a quarter or half cup of sugar, but otherwise I can make them on autopilot, adding ingredients and tending to the important steps without much thought.
Throughout the making of the rolls, there are some pivotal places where things can go wrong, and the yeast is by far the most important thing to get right, right from the start. I’ve learned that there’s no point in doing anything else with the other ingredients until you’ve given the yeast enough time to show you that it’s ready to really do its job.
I warm the milk (must be whole milk) in a small ramekin and add the yeast before I do anything else. This combination of ingredients sounds easy, but if the milk is too hot, or not warm enough, the yeast won’t do what it needs to do. Every single time I have some trepidation that this won’t go well, and occasionally I am right. With a gentle stir and the patience to give it a few minutes, if all conditions are right, I will see at least a few bubbles form and be able to smell the faint smell of baking bread–this assures me it’s safe to keep going.
My favorite part of making the rolls, though, comes after all of the mixing and kneading, flour-sprinkling and bowl-scraping. My recipe requires the rolls rise twice before they go in the oven. I am mesmerized with this process, and it’s the rise that brings me such satisfaction. In the bowl after the first rise, I remove the wax paper and kitchen towel I drape over the bowl to keep the conditions favorable, and my dough has risen to at least twice its original size. It’s beautiful to see, but more satisfaction comes when I punch the dough down to move on to the next rise.
A ball of dough that went in slightly tough, maybe even with a little bit of stickiness in some spots is now like a cloud with a velvety smooth sheen and tiny air pillows that deflate quickly as I push down to the bottom of the bowl. This “punch” can become a coveted thing to get to do if you have young helpers in the kitchen. It has in my house.
There’s more rolling and another set of wax paper and a kitchen towel on top of the rolls for the final rise. Coming out of the oven there’s nothing I bake that looks more beautiful, maybe because of the amazing transformation that is brought about by a very small amount of yeast that started the whole process.
My relationship with the yeast and the dough, learning how to tend to one to make the other, didn’t happen easily or overnight. I probably tried and adjusted this recipe at least 30 times before I got to the point where I can produce beautiful and consistently sized/shaped rolls every time I make them. That was years of roll making, and most of them came out wonky for a very long time.
I think exercising our faith is the same in many ways. We have to be mindful of the quality and type of ingredients we introduce and then put in the effort to show up and do some work. Maybe even more important though, like with my dough, is the willingness to evaluate the situation all along the way and then sit back and be still before what God is stirring in us can fully be realized. I don’t think there’s one magic “yeast.’ I think it’s a combination of many, many things that lead to the rising we seek and the coming of the Kingdom of heaven. Prayer, worship, study, service, relationships, stillness, humility are some of the ingredients we have to work into our own recipes if we want to experience the life changing transformation of Jesus Christ.
* Eugene Eung-Chun Park and Joel B. Green, study note on Matthew13:33 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 31 NT.
** William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew—Volume 2 Chapters 11–28 (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 79.