Parable of the Mustard Seed & Leaven: Beautifully Offensive
February 1, 2022
Question: Why does the Kingdom of Heaven seem so underwhelming?
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[b] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Kingdom of Heaven will grow and
- Mustard Seed (Vs. 31) weighed about one milligram. About 800 seeds weighed one gram.
- Was Probably very Prevalent along the shores of Galilee
- Average height about 4 feet but could grow as high as 10 feet
- Grew to a shrub size within 3-5 days
- Draws his hearers to reflect on Ezekiel 31:3-6 – Tree of Lebanon and the nations lived in its shade (Vs. 6), produced branches for birds to nest (vs. 6) and animals give birth under its branches (vs. 6)
*An underwhelming seed grows to a formidable Plant. Similarly, the Kingdom of God seems underwhelming, but it will quickly grow into a kingdom that shadows all other kingdoms that offers rest and births new life
- Three measures of flour makes A LOT of bread…enough for 100 people
- Equivalent to 144 cups of flour today i.e. 416 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Insignificant amount of leaven causes the entire bread to rise
*The Kingdom of Heaven, like a little leaven, will cause the entire bread to rise
Kingdom of Heaven includes Fellowship with the
This parable is vastly offensive to a Jewish audience!
- West VS. East view of right and wrong i.e. clean and unclean
- Jews view through the lens of what is clean and unclean, we view through the lens of what is right and wrong
- Example: Leviticus 12 says a woman is unclean for 7 days after birthing a son, then wait 33 days for purification or 14 days after birthing a daughter, then wait 66 days for purification. Parents must perform purification ritual by offering a burnt and sin offering
- They are unclean, but not because they sin. They offer a sin offering not because they sinned in childbirth, but because childbirth pain derives from sin (See Genesis 3).
- Eating unclean food was a sin not because being unclean was a sin, but because God said do not eat unclean food
- Both parables present an unclean situation:
- Mustard Seed: Deuteronomy 22:9
- Mixing seed would render the plant and its fruit unclean
*I.e. The Kingdom will grow in an unclean field
- Leaven: Grain (Meal) offering of Fellowship, thanksgiving, first fruits, Hospitality (Leviticus 2)
- Numbers 15:8-9 gives parameters for grain offering. One seah i.e. measure was required for meal/grain offering
- Three omers equal one seah. Three seah equals one ephah
- Genesis 18:6 – Sarah and Abraham offers three measures/seah i.e. one ehphah to God demonstrating they went well above and beyond required offering measure
- Judges 6:18-19 – Gideon offers God three measures
- 1 Samuel 1:24 – Hannah offers God three measures
- Ezekiel 45:24 – Thanksgiving Feast offers two ephah
- This all demonstrates that three measures of meal represented giving above required meal offering for thanksgiving and fellowship
- The offering of thanksgiving and fellowship in this parable offers a subtle, yet offensive trait…it includes leaven! The Meal offering was supposed to be unleaven!
*Jesus is revealing that the Kingdom of God will grow and become complete through the use of what is unclean….the GENTILES!!!!
- Matthew has been beating this horse his entire gospel…the Gentiles are included in the promise
- The feature of a woman is also offensive
- Jesus associates a woman who in that culture was a second-class citizen as an agent of the kingdom i.e. the kingdom will use the lowly to grow
- A woman was the bread maker in the home…but she only prepared bread for her FAMILY
*Here, the emphasis is that the woman prepares three measures of meal for those outside her family i.e. outside the Family of God – The Jewish people
- The Kingdom celebrates and offers thanksgiving to gentile inclusion
- The kingdom offers fellowship with gentiles
- The kingdom will be hospitable to gentiles
- The kingdom will bear its first fruits to the gentiles
Kingdom of Heaven will
- A mustard seed in a field or garden will spoil the field/garden. Beyond it being against Torah, a farmer would never do this anyway
- Makes plants and fruit unclean
- Disrupts growth of the crop
- Leaven has always been viewed as a corrupting agent
- Jesus warns of the leaven of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians
- A little leaven corrupts a lot of bread
- Because of this fact, many suggest that this parable is about more corruption in the church (See previous parable about Weed and Wheat), and that the church will grow so corrupt until its completion.
- Notice however, Jesus links the kingdom to the leaven, not the bread leaven corrupts;
*In this parable, the Kingdom of God acts as the corrupting agent. In the first parable, the Kingdom is the mustard seed that corrupts the field. In the second, the kingdom is the leaven that corrupts the bread!
QUESTION: What is the Kingdom corrupting?
ANSWER: The Kingdom of heaven spoils and corrupts satans field.
Guided Questions for Discussion
- The original audience Jesus addresses felt underwhelmed by HOW the kingdom of God entered the world. Think about the times you have been overwhelmed by God. Now think about the time right before those overwhelming moments. What was different? Do we often feel underwhelmed by God’s purpose, mission, and instruction?
- What is your mustard seed moment? Has your experience with Jesus played out like a small seed that has grown to a commanding element in your life?
- What has been the leaven in your journey of faith? What small thing spread throughout your life that has affected every aspect of your life? A teaching? An experience?
- How does the Jewish perspective of Clean VS. Unclean differ from our western understanding of morality? How does it change how you understand and read your Bible?
- This double parable emphasizes the diversity within the kingdom of God. The mixture of unclean people (Gentiles) within the kingdom would have shocked, and more so offended the Jewish listeners. The idea that a woman will played a central role within the kingdom in this parable would also be culturally shocking and offensive. What groups, people, or demographics do we separate, or discount culturally? Who would surprise us to see included in the kingdom of God?
- In the leaven parable, the woman is making three measures of meal. This would have anchored the Jewish listeners to think about the grain (meal) offering given at the temple. This offering represented fellowship, thanksgiving, hospitality, and first fruits. Furthermore, three measures implies a meal for many outside the woman’s family. Are we hospitable to those outside our social, economic, or cultural click? Do we offer thanksgiving for those who belong to Christ’s kingdom outside our social comfort? Are we willing to fellowship with those people? Give them the first-fruits of our time, energy, money, love?
- Both parables also demonstrate the kingdom of God spoils satans plans. Similarly, it spoils sin in our lives. Share how the kingdom of God has spoiled sin for you.