The Parable of the Leaven
Matthew 13:33 * Luke 13:20, 21
Naturally as Jesus grew up he watched his mother bake bread for her family. She would have first, gotten the pots and pans ready; second, she would take flour, water, yeast and a pinch of salt. He knew that she would mix these ingredients together and then let them sit.
For the time being Mary’s work would have been finished. She knew that the yeast would do its job. The yeast would cause the dough to rise. When the process of what we know as “fermentation” was completed, Mary would take the dough and bake it into bread.
So Jesus tells a story of a woman who was baking bread. He told how this woman would take a very small amount of yeast and put it into a larger portion of prepared flour.
Matthew and Luke both record that this woman took three σατον (sat’-on) or measures of flour. A σατον or measure was equal to about 14 liters, or 3 gallons of yeast. This woman took some 39 liters of flour. This would weigh a little more than 50 pounds. This woman intended on baking a very large quantity of bread.
The word for leaven is ζυμη (dzoo’-may). Some translations, like the NIV have changed the word from leaven to yeast. The reason for this may be the fact that outside of Jewish culture most people are not familiar with leaven. However, people in most cultures are familiar with yeast.
Yeast is clean, fresh, and is associated with something that is wholesome. Yeast is made from a cultivation of a mineral salt-sugar solution that starch is added. Leaven is made by storing a piece of dough from the previous week and by adding juices to promote the process of fermentation. So, leaven became equated with something not fresh, not clean, or wholesome. At times leaven was used as a synonym for sin as a result.
It was not the purpose of Jesus at this time to call anyone’s attention to anything evil. He is using leaven because of its tremendous hidden power. The leaven would cause the dough to rise by permeating the entire batch of flour. The leaven could no longer be found or detected. It was hidden and invisible.
Like many of the other parables this one has also been interpreted and miss-interpreted. For example, Jerome identified the woman with the church. Others have said that the three “measures” were three branches of the human race, (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) as the Greeks, the Jews, and the Samaritans. Some have thought that the three “measures” referred to the body, soul, and the mind.
If the plain sense of scripture makes sense, then seek no other sense. The leaven, once it has been added to the flour permeates the entire batch of flour until every particle is affected. The leaven is hidden from plain view, but the effect of the leaven is easily seen as the flour rises. The power that is at work in the kingdom of heaven is invisible, yet the effects of God’s power can and will be seen when the Kingdom comes. Jesus is drawing attention to the internal power of the kingdom that leaves nothing it touches unaffected.
All the changes, benefits, rewards, blessings, including the supernatural changes will be affected by the power of God that works invisibly and will come to fruition. The disciples don’t need to worry. As insignificant as the “beginnings” seem, the amazing power of God is invisibly at work and will affect the entire world.